6th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I ask the Minister of Home Affairs whether there is any truth in the report that several hundred men have been discharged from the South Australian portion of the east-west railway construction works? If so, why have they been discharged ?
– I have no information on the subject, but I shall make inquiries and let the honorable member know the result to-morrow.
– Has the Government yet decided to bring in a Bill for an Act for the creation of a Supply and Tender Board ?
– Ministers have not finally made up their minds on this matter, but their views are largely onthe lines indicated by the question.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to indicate when the Government will be prepared to declare its attitude regarding the proposed removal of the duty on sugar, to enable arrangements to be made for the importation of the amount needed to carry us over July and August?
– Yesterday the House was informed that the Government was making a full inquiry as to the position. Sworn statements will be obtained if necessary, so that the facts may be established before we decide on our policy.
– Has the Prime Minister any idea when that will be?
– It will be done without a moment’s avoidable delay.
Mr.McGRATH. - When does the AttorneyGeneral think that the inquiry, which he said yesterday he has commenced will be completed, so that we may know what stock of sugar there is in the Commonwealth, and how it is being held ?
– As I said yesterday, the Cabinet has asked me to make an inquiry to ascertain whether there is a shortage of sugar. Until that fact is ascertained it would be futile to decide what should be done. My inquiry is proceeding. I have been informed by the Millaquin Company that for all practical purposes they have no stocks of sugar left, and are unable to obtain sugar from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, but I have not yet been furnished with information regarding the stocks held by the Colonial Sugar Henning Company in the various States. I shall make a statement to the House at the earliest moment after all the information has been disclosed, so that honorable members may know exactly what the position is.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs in a position to give the House any information regarding what took place yesterday at the conference between himself and various State Ministers f
– Representatives of the press were not present at the conference, but when interviewed subsequently the Attorney-General of New South Wales and myself both made statements which have been published in the newspapers. My statement was on the lines of that made by our Attorney-General yesterday, namely, that until the Government has the fullest information Ministers do not intend to act. They will act directly they possess the information that they require.
– Is the Minister of Trade and Customs yet in a position to move a resolution abolishing the duty on chaff?
– A resolution has been prepared ratifying what the Government have done, with, I believe, the concurrence of every honorable member, that is the removal of the duty on fodder at a time of great shortage in foodstuffs. Now that rain has como we hope it will not be necessary (o keep off the duty very long, and it will be for honorable members to say when it shall be reimposed.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether, at the recent Conference of Premiers, any effort was made to have the charges of the State Governments for the carriage of mails reviewed with a view to getting rid of the discreditable and faulty system that now prevails?
– I am not aware that the matter was dealt with at the Conference. I did not make any reference to the Conference regarding it. The charges referred to are fixed by the Railways Commissioners of the States.
– In view of the approach of cold weather and the very long and uncertain hours that are worked by the Commonwealth employes at the Naval Dockyard at Cockatoo Island, will the Defence Department take into consideration the advisability of instituting a dry canteen where these men can obtain hot meals at a reasonable cost?
– I shall be pleased to look into the matter and will give the honorable member an answer later.
– Has any reply been given to the deputation of seventy mail contractors who waited on the Acting Deputy Postmaster-General in Adelaide recently, to put their views relative to the shortage of fodder? If so, what does the Postmaster-General intend to do? Has he the papers connected with the deputation, and, if so, will he lay them on the table?
– I have received a full report of the statements made by the deputation, and also a report from the Acting Deputy Postmaster-General for South Australia. I am ako considering other evidence. The whole matter is under consideration, and perhaps I may be able to make a definite statement next week.
– I ask the Minister of External Affairs if he will treat the offensive and insulting letter from Sir Alexander Peacock regarding the voluntary resignation of the Panama Exposition Commissioners in the manner it deserves, on the ground of it being ungracious, arbitrary, and unwise?
– I rise to a point of order. Such a question should not be asked in a legislative assembly.
– I am endeavouring to follow the honorable member for Bendigo and to hear what his question is.
– I asked whether the Minister of External Affairs would treat the offensive and insulting letter-
– Order I The honorable member is now doing more than asking a question. He is attributing unworthy motives to some one, and that I cannot allow. He must not debate the matter.
– Very well, - sir; I thought I was describing the letter as it should be described.
– The honorable member should leave out hia insulting characterization.
– I do not desire any interference on the part of the Leader of the Opposition. Will the Minister of External Affairs treat the letter from Sir Alexander Peacock regarding the voluntary resignation of the Panama Exposition Commissioners in the manner it deserves, on the ground of its being ungracious, arbitrary, and unwise?
– Who framed this question for the honorable member?
– I framed it myself.
– The letter from the Premier of Victoria, referred to by the honorable member for Bendigo, was written on the 18th instant, and it reached the Department of External Affairs on the following day. On the morning of the 20th it appeared in the newspapers, before an opportunity had been afforded to reply to it. I am very doubtful whether the Premier of Victoria, of his own volition, dictated the alleged protest which was forwarded to the Prime Minister. I am inclined to believe that there was some Hohenzollern influence behind the Premier of Victoria, who is invariably a gentleman. There appears to be a “Mr. von Somebody” behind.
– The honorable Minister is now going beyond the answering of a question.
– Indications point to some outside factors being at work in connexion with this Commission’s affairs.
– Considering that the Commonwealth Government contribute only £12,000 out of a total estimated expenditure of £68,000 in the representation of Australia at the Panama Exposition, does the Minister df External Affairs concede to the States the right to make any representations at all on so important a matter, and one which so profoundly affects the States as well as the Commonwealth?
– I have recognised, throughout, the right of the States to be consulted in connexion with this Commission. The only action taken by the Commonwealth Government is well within its powers. The resignation of the Commissioners, I understand, was due to the recall of the secretary. That secretary was appointed by the Commonwealth Government, which had, therefore, the right to recall him and to appoint a substitute.
– -Will -the Minister of External Affairs state what expenses Mr. Deakin has already drawn as the representative of the Commonwealth on the Panama Exposition Commission ?
– I am not in a position at present to answer the honorable’s member’s question. If desirable, I would ask the honorable member to mention it again at a later date.
– Under what governing principle does the Minister of External Affairs claim the right to make appointments to the Panama Exposition Commission without any reference whatever to the States, in view of the fact that they “ pay the piper “ while he, apparently, calls the tune?
– We have not made any appointments to the Commission.
– The Minister spoke of the secretary.
– The appointment of the Commission and of its secretary, Mr. Edward, was made by the right honorable gentleman’s Government. The secretary is an officer of the Department of External Affairs. There were other senior officers absent from the Department, and as the work was falling into arrears it became necessary that one of those officers should return to his duties in Melbourne. The secretary of the Panama Exposition Commission was the one who could be returned with least inconvenience, and he was therefore recalled. If the right honorable gentleman’s Government had the right to appoint a secretary to the Commission, surely his succcessors in office had the right to appoint a substitute.
– I regret that I have to put another question to the Minister of External Affairs, who is evidently under a misapprehension as to what took place. Is he aware - if not will he ascertain
– On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I would remind you that last session it was ruled that where a Minister had answered a question no further question on the same subject could be put to him.
– I hope that no such rulingwas given.
– Where a question has been put to a Minister a further inquiry may be made for the purpose of eliciting additional information. That, I take it, was the object of the Leader of the Opposition in seeking to put another question to the Minister of External Affairs. At the same time I may say that I have observed on the part of honorable members a growing tendency to put to Ministers a series of questions on the same subject. A few days ago a Minister was asked six or seven questions founded on an original inquiry put to him. It is not for me to interfere where such questions are put to elicit additional information; but it is within the power of the Government to ask in such circumstances that notice be given. If they took that course they might to a very large extent reduce the number of questions put without notice.
– Is the Minister of External Affairs aware that Mr. Edward was appointed secretary with the consent of the Commission then in existence? If the secretary was so appointed, why was not the appointment of his substitute made in the same way ?
– I am not aware that the facts are as stated by the right honorable gentleman. I think Mr. Edward was selected for the Commission by the then Minister of External Affairs.
– After consultation with the Commission.
– That does not appear on any of the papers I have seen.
– It is nevertheless a fact.
– A good many things have transpired in connexion with this Commission that do not appear on the papers. As already stated, Mr. Edward is an officer of the Department of External Affairs, and his services were required in the Department. He was the one officer who could be conveniently recalled to do certain necessary work, and he was recalled on the advice of the permanent head of the Department.
– Has the Minister of External Affairs read the following statement, which appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Argus? -
Brisbane, Tuesday.- When Mr. Deakin and Mr. Nielsen resigned their positions as commissioners at the Panama Exposition, Mr. J. A. Robertson (the Queensland commissioner) sought the permission of the Queensland Premier to resign also, but Mr. Denham advised him not to do so. Asked this morning if there was a suggestion that Mr. Robertson should represent the other States, and whether hehad any objection, the Premier said: - “They could not do better than make Mr. Robertson chief commissioner. He has all the qualifications to represent the Commonwealth as chiefcommissioner, and I would not have the least objection to his taking on the increased duties.”
Can the honorable gentleman give us any information on the subject?
– I think that the paragraph read by the honorable memberis correct. I have seen a telegram from the Premier of Queensland to the effect that Mr. Robertson is ready to act as Chief Commissioner at San Francisco.
asked the Minister of External Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
– Is it the intention of the
Government to act upon the recommendation of the Inter-State Commission with regard to granting a bounty of 2d. per lb. on all white-grown tobacco produced in Australia and realizing1s. alb. ?
– Reports presented by the Inter-State Commission are laid on the table of the House as soon as they are received, and before the Government have an opportunity to consider them. I doubt whether it will be possible to grant all the bounties that the Commission suggest if they go on as they have been doing, but I have every sympathy towards the effort to grow all our own tobacco leaf in Australia instead of having to buy it in overseas markets.
– Is the AttorneyGeneral now in a position to say whether it is the intention of the Government to “bring in a Bill for the purpose of amending the Land Tax Assessment Act?
– During the honorable member’s temporary absence from the chamber last week the honorable member for Calare referred me to a statement I had made during the Committee stage of the Land Tax Assessment Bill with regard to providing greater facilities for appeal, and I informed the honorable member that I would communicate with the Land Tax Commissioner, and that if he replied that the case set forth by my friends was in accordance with the facts, the Government, when bringing down the Land Tax Assessment Bill, would make provision for greater facilities for appeals.
– I wish to ask the Minister of Trade and Customs a question arising out of a reply he has already given in regard to the importation of wheat. A sample sent to me from a country district of wheat which has been imported from. Argentine, is crammed full of all sorts of seeds other than wheat. I ask the Minister whether he has received from his responsible officers any report in regard to the quality of the wheat which has been imported ?
– I have not received any report as to the quantity of rubbish in the imported wheat, or as to the probability of the introduction of pests; but instructions have been given to keep a careful watch in order to see that no diseases are brought in. Now that the honorable member has mentioned the matter I shall secure reports from all the States that have recently imported wheat.
– Has the Minister of Home Affairs made inquiries into what steps have been taken to provide a rifle range at West Wallsend? The work would give a certain amount of employment in that district.
– From inquiries
I have made at the Department I have ascertained that a requisition has not yet come from the Defence Department for the carrying out of the work, but I shall push on with it with all diligence as soon ‘ as the Department receives the necessary requisition.
– Can the Assistant Minister of Defence say whether anything has been done in order to improve matters at Broadmeadows in regard to the muddy condition of the ground?
– We are doing everything we can in order to make the ground as dry as possible. We are spending money on the making of drains in order to drain it.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether it is a fact that a rebate of half the amount of duty is allowed on grain coming from theNew Hebrides; and, if so, will he permit the same concession on imports of grain from New Guinea?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is -
A grant of half the amount of duty paid on maize produced by British settlers in the New Hebrides and imported into Australia in British ships is made by the Department of External Affairs. The question of granting some Tariff concessions on the products of the Territory of Papua is now receiving the attention of the Government.
Death of Fever Patient
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Dependants’ Birth Certificates - Nurses’ Equipment - Stoppage of Pay - Enoggera Camp Bread Contract
asked the Assistant Minister, representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answer to the honorable member’s questions is in each case “ Yes.”
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as fol low: -
On investigating the matter recently he found that an order or advice had been given in two States to take extra articles such as mess kit, which nurses do not need, they being arranged by the Department in Egypt or England. He has not been able to find now this advice was originally given, but thinks it was done by matrons now on active service.
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
Whether he will lay on the table ofthe House all papers connected with the Bread Contract for the Enoggera Camp, including vouchers for payments to date, and complaints re short weight, if any?
– The papers will be laid on the Library table. As regards vouchers for payments made, the matter will be referred to the Treasury.
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : - 1 and 2. The Department has no knowledge of the position as indicated in the questions, but there may have been such instances due to military offences.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
Provided that steel rails suitable for railway construction were produced under the owner ship of the Commonwealth, is there any section in the Federal Constitution which would prevent the sale of such rails to any State Government?
– The powers of the Commonwealth in relation to trade and commerce, and to industrial matters, are limited. It is not possible for me to say definitely whether the rails made by the Commonwealth could be sold to State Governments.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– I will lay the information on the table of the House, in the form of a return, at an early date.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
Whether he noticed the report of the discussion at the Premiers’ Conference regarding the nationalization of the iron industry; if so - recognising that the Government of New South Wales is on the point of establishing works in its own State - will the Prime Minister confer with the other State Premiers with a view to the establishment of the steel and iron industry in the most suitable locality?
– The position is that Mr. Earle brought up in Conference in Sydney the question of the establishment of national iron and steel works by the Federal Government in the Commonwealth. He was unable, however, to secure an agreement on the point; and the matter at the present time rests there. The Government has always been of opinion that the best interests of the Commonwealth could be served by its establishing such an industry.
– Yesterday I received some answers to questions I did not ask, and no answers to questions I did ask.
I desire to put a couple of further questions to-day in the hope that I shall be more successful.
– Order !
– I ask the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence the following questions, of which I have given notice: -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are - 1 and 2. No. In the course of the inquiries made by the Court of Inquiry constituted for the purpose, it became known that certain articles were in possession of Colonel Paton. and action was taken to institute a search of his private residence. Various articles were seized, Colonel Pilton giving every assistance.
At the Court of Inquiry he admitted the possession of these articles, but denied that they were “loot.” The Court of Inquiry considered, however, that a prim& facie case existed against Colonel Paton, and submitted a report to that effect. Charges of stealing the articles were thereupon preferred against bini by the Crown. At his trial, Colonel Paton pleaded not guilty, and after hearing the evidence the Court found him not guilty, and honorably acquitted him.
asked the Assistant Minister representing the Minister of Defence, upon notice -
In view of the pressing necessity for rifles for .our volunteers, will the Minister for Defence avail himself of the offer of the State Premiers to supply skilled labour and utilize such labour at Lithgow to increase the output of; small arms?
– The practicability of accepting this offer is now being considered by the Ministry.
asked the Minister of Home Affairs, upon notice -
– The * answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
Allowance and Receiving Post Offices : Junior Mechanics : Temporary LETTER-CARRIERS. ; Mr. WISE asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
Considering that allowance and receiving post-offices are situated in outlying districts where there are no facilities for transmitting moneys, will he arrange to have postal notes made available for the public at such offices?
– Postal notes are sold at allowance offices, and the facility may be extended to receiving offices where the circumstances are considered to be such as to warrant action being taken in that direction.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice. -
– Inquiries are being made”, and replies will be furnished as early as possible.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
The following paper was presented: -
Fisheries. - Fishing experiments carried on by F.I.S. Endeavour - Biological results. Vol. III., Part 3.
.-I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, expenditure upon the Federal Capital should be reduced to a minimum during the financial stress occasioned by the drought and the war.
Under the present abnormal conditions, I offer no apology for submitting this motion. In view of the repeated determination of a majority of this House to proceed with the work of the Federal Capital, I freely admit that, under natural and usual conditions, there would have been very little justification for such a motion ; but I have no hesitation in concluding that the circumstances are now such that the proposal will certainly receive fair consideration. Several honorable members have urged the Minister of Home Affairs to proceed more rapidly with this work ; and my motion is intended as an antidote to the clamourings for increased expenditure. I desire to submit some facts to justify my contention that we ought to make haste slowly in the matter of the Federal Capital. To begin with, the expenditure on this work is increasing at a somewhat rapid rate. In 1912-13, the expenditure was £137,000 ; in 1913-14 it was £252,000 ; and the estimated expenditure for the current year is £270,000. It is obvious, therefore, that we are going ahead at a fair pace.
– Do those figures include expenditure for land?
– Wo, merely on works and buildings ; and yet such an expenditure does not satisfy some honorable members. On referring to the Budget-papers, page 46, 1 find that, in 1912-13, when there was no drought and no war, the total expenditure per head in the Commonwealth was £4 17s. 8$d. ; that in 1913-14 it was £5 4s. ; and that the estimated expenditure for the current year is £7 19s. 5£d.
– Does the last amount include war expenditure?
– No ; only ordinary expenditure. These figures ought to give pause to those honorable members who are so anxious to see the expenditure increased. It is admitted that a long period must elapse before we can occupy the Federal Capital; and it has to be ‘recognised that, according to appearances, there is considerable friction between the Minister of Home Affairs and responsible officers in regard to certain works. I am of opinion that, until the position in this respect is satisfactorily settled, it would be unwise to proceed with any great expenditure. The motion refers to the financial stress occasioned by the drought and the war; and when we turn to the Budget-papers, page 133, we find that in 1913-14, the last year for which there is any record, the net exportable surplus of wheat and flour amounted to 54,000,000’ bushels, which, at a valuation of 4s. per bushel, represents £10,000,000. What isthe position which has to be faced by every person on the land - every person in the community? Instead of our having- £10,000,000, the value of an ordinary wheat crop, circulating amongst us, wehave actually to put our hands into our pockets and pay other countries for the wheat we require. The export trade, in other directions, has been affected in precisely the same way by the drought. Instead of receiving considerable sums of money for exports, we are now compelled to import. Sugar, for instance, is to be imported largely, and we must have hay in order to feed the stock. All the circumstances point to a very serious condition of things, which means a large increase in the cost of living. Never before have the people been called upon to pay so much for bread; indeed, almost every article we eat, wear, or use has increased in price, and the cost of living will remain abnormally high until we have another good season. With an estimated expenditure per head of almost £8, it is obvious that any further taxation, in order to carry on such works as that of the Federal Capital, which are purely of an unproductive character, must seriously increasethe public burden. I plead with honorable members to have some kindly consideration for the taxpayers. It is not necessary for me to say much regarding the motion ; and I need only point to the fact that the drought and the war have increased the cost of living, while the spending power of the people has been reduced. We cannot blink the fact that the community is feeling the pinch, and we ought to do whatever we can to relieve the position. I do not say that an expenditure on the Federal Capital of over u quarter of a million of money is going to be appreciably felt; but, with other large undertakings of a more utilitarian character to be carried on, the least necessary should first be discontinued. I am not going to occupy the attention of the House for any length of time.
– Why not?
– Because I consider that I have done my duty when I bring this motion forward, and afford honorable members an opportunity to express an opinion. The facts are clear to all. We have had a drought, the worst in the recollection of most people ; and the general conditions are most serious. The ordinary expenditure of the Government is increasing to an enormous extent ; and those who urge that more money still should bo devoted to the Federal Capital are taking ii line of action which, if it has any effect at all, must still further intensify the prevailing difficulties. I want to relieve the people of that obligation if I can. I am not going to repeat what I have said on previous occasions regarding the Federal Capital. My views on the subject are well known. However, Parliament has decided to go forward with the matter, and under normal conditions I should not have submitted this motion, but I should have been lacking in my duty at the present time if I had not raised my voice in protest at this continued expenditure under the extreme conditions now operating.
– But you voted for this Capital site.
– Quite a number of members voted for this site, and for another site. I was one of those who came into Parliament when there was nothing else to vote upon. The question of building the Capital had been settled before I appeared in this House, and the only question I had to vote upon was one between the various sites. Had the question been one with regard to building the city or otherwise, I should have answered in a very decided negative. I feel perfectly justified in raising my protest on this occasion, though I know it will be urged that to discontinue work at the Federal Capital will have the effect of throwing large numbers out of employment, and thus in- tensifying the difficulties of the period. I have yet to learn that the Federal Parliament is: a benevolent institution. If it is necessary to establish works to give employment under the peculiar and trying conditions now in existence, let that employment be given on work that is likely to produce some return for the money expended, and not in the fanciful direction which has been suggested by some honorable members. There I will leave the question. I would like to get a vote upon it in order to find out who is in favour and who against relieving to some extent the strain now imposed, upon the people by the abnormal conditions which prevail.
.- I am rather surprised at the honorable member’s attitude on this question, because he was one of those who voted for the Federal Capital site. He has given quite a number of reasons why he so voted, but what I want tlo draw attention to is that some time ago when a large sum of money was placed on the Estimates for additional works at the Capital city by the Government with which he was associated, I moved to reduce that sum. The honorable member told me then in very forceful language that he would not vote for my fireworks. I do not know what has happened since.
– Will the honorable member permit me to say that those Estimates were framed by the previous Government ?
– The honorable member is very apt at making explanations. It now appears that he voted on this question because the Labour party had framed the Estimates. We have gone altogether too far with the Capital city to now cry a halt. In the interests of the Commonwealth it would be a good thing if this Parliament were out of Melbourne, or out of any large city. The sooner we get the Federal Capital the sooner shall we get some return for the money already expended, and, at the same time, get away from the domination of such influences as we shall feel presently in connexion with the Tariff.
I am sorry, therefore, that I cannot support the honorable member. I am reminded, moreover, that he had an excellent opportunity when voting on those Estimates, which were framed, as he says, by the Labour party, of voting against them without inflicting any injury on his own party. He refused even to do that.
.- I am sorry that I cannot support the argument which has fallen from my honorable friend. The honorable member who has just resumed his seat has reminded me that the Labour party put the sum of £270,000 on their Estimates for the Federal Capital. Instead of complaining that that sum is too big, I do not think it is big enough. My view is that this is one of the redeeming proposals1 of the Labour party. They are, I hope, dealing with this matter seriously with the object of developing the Federal Capital in the manner we all desire. The honorable member for Echuca stated that during the last three years the sum of £659,000 had been expended on improvements. If he will add to that the sum of £400,000 as the cost of resumptions he will arrive at a total of a million pounds, interest on which the taxpayers have to pay.
– I think the honorable member is very modest.
– I will keep well within the boundary, and assume that a million pounds has been spent. At 4j per cent, that means an interest charge of £45.,000 per year which the taxpayers are called upon to pay, and if we do not prosecute this work vigorously we might just as well throw the money away. There is another question which has to be borne in mind. This Territory is comprised of leasehold land, which belongs to the Commonwealth, and the quicker we push on with its development the sooner will it be reproductive, whereas if we slacken off the area will remain non-productive. The sooner we get into the Federal Capital, erect our buildings, and encourage tradespeople to go there, the sooner will it become a paying proposition.
An Honorable Member. - What is the revenue now ?
– There is very little revenue, because we are not pushing along fast enough with the work in hand. The revenue is very small.
– The revenue from rentals ought to cover the interest.
– There is a fair quantity of good agricultural land, but the bulk of the land is inferior. A large area is properly reserved to protect the water supply from contamination.
– It is good, secondclass, pastoral land.
– I do not think that the Minister would care to settle on it.
– I saw some of the finest bullocks in Australia being grazed on it.
– A very large area would be needed for a pastoral property.
– Is there any really good land there?
– Yes, some beautiful land. There is any quantity of rich, agricultural land in the vicinity of the Capital, and the district has a good rainfall and a splendid, bracing climate. As I make my living from the land, I naturally look at a district from a landholder’s point of view. I defy any ‘man to make a living on the rugged ranges in the Territory. I was pleased to see how far the Cotter River water supply scheme had advanced. -The Government have also made sanitary arrangements at the Capital site, and have erected a power house for the accommodation of pumping and other machinery. So much having been done, the Government should push things forward as quickly as possible. The Military College at Duntroon, which is in the Territory, has proved itself to be a very fine asset, not only to the Commonwealth, but to the Empire, having sent 100 young officers to the Dardanelles. Australia’s best insurance at the present time is her troops, and the officers who have been trained at that College. The honorable member for Echuca was, however, brief in his remarks, and I therefore shall follow his example, thus giving other honorable members an opportunity to speak.
.- It must have surprised, and even shocked, many honorable members to see the honorable member for Echuca father this motion. I have just been reading the record of utterances delivered by him not so long ago, which seem to contradict his present action .
– The honorable member must take care lest his own remarks be quoted.
– I hope that I shall never be afraid to confess to an honest change of front. I thought that . practically every honorable member had come to the conclusion that, whatever views might be held originally regarding the selection and establishment of the Capital, Canberra having been finally chosen, we should push on with the establishment of the city. In my opinion, the sooner this Parliament meets at the Federal Capital, the better it will be for Australia. I should be prepared to meet in a tin shed at the Capital, if necessary. I am certain that, from a health point of view, it would be no worse than the place in which we are now. Speaking on the 15th October, WIS, the honorable member for Echuca said -
Prior to the late election, when I had the honour of beirne returned by a large majority indeed, I told the people that we had embarked on the building of the capital, and that the position of honorable members was such that it would go on, whatever Government might be in power.
He also said -
A large majority is pledged to push on with the capital, and unless money is to be thrown away progress must be made at a reasonable rate.
– I was speaking of normal conditions. The conditions now are abnormal.
– The honorable member, who was then discussing the precarious state of the finances, was ready even to go to his uncle to borrow the money, if need be. He said -
If the Federal Capital can be built with loan money, borrowed at a reasonable rate, with a properly apportioned sinking fund, there will be more to justify our support of the project. As the honorable member for Grey has thrown out a challenge to those on this side, I have made my position in regard to this matter plain. I told the people that whatever Government was in power, this expenditure would continue, and that if I could relieve the burden of taxation by supporting a judicious borrowing policy I would do so.
The honorable member must be aware that, if there were a cessation of expenditure at the Federal Capital now, a large number of men would be thrown out of employment. Would that be conducive to the well-being of the community at this juncture ?
– Why not employ them on reproductive works?
– They are being employed on reproductive works now. We have 1,000 square miles of Federal Territory, and the more we improve it, the more the Commonwealth will ‘ benefit. When the honorable member was speaking on a previous occasion, the honorable member for Darwin interjected that the establishment of the Capital would be a very good proposition indeed, and the honorable member himself advanced arguments in favour of proceeding with the work. Very few honorable members have seen the whole of. the Territory. I believe that if honorable members generally had seen a large part of the Territory, they would be more inclined to push on with the work there, to increase the value of this asset. It surprises me that at this late hour the honorable member for Echuca should object to our expenditure there, seeing how much we have already spent. I hope that the work will proceed, and I am sorry that there is not a larger number of men employed there. ,1 should like to see the labour market relieved by the extension of works at the Federal Capital. I do not think that we should wait until a large ornamental building can be erected before moving to the Federal Capital. The construction of the outer portion of the Federal Parliament House could await a convenient time, and, in the meanwhile, our architects could easily provide a hall whose acoustic properties would be better than those of this chamber. Once Parliament met at the Federal Capital, its development would be very marked, and the value of the land there would increase rapidly because of increased population. The proposal having got beyond the debating stage, we should give effect to our determination regarding it as soon as we can. I believe that the sentiment of the people of Australia will be more truly expressed by the National Parliament when it meets at the Federal Capital than would be possible in any big centre of population. In a big city the Parliament is surrounded by local influences. Australia, like America, needs a Federal Capital.
– Is the honorable member afraid of the local press?
– There are other pressing influences at work in a State Capital besides the press. I shall oppose the motion by vote and voice, and I trust that the Minister of Home Affairs will push on with the works at the Federal Capital, so that the Federal Parliament may meet there as soon as possible.
, - I ask the honorable member to withdraw the motion, and I express surprise that he should have put it on the notice-paper. Like me, he is small in stature, and I regret to say that the motion shows that he is small of mind, too. I ask him to look at this matter from a higher stand-point than that of a representative of Echuca, or even of Victoria. It is too late in the day to discuss a motion of this character. When I first entered this House some four or five years ago, I supported motions not exactly of this character, but dealing with expenditure at the Federal Capital, because at that time I was not convinced that the right site had been chosen. But the day has long since passed when such expenditure could reasonably be criticised on that ground. Whether we like it or not, we have to recognise that a solemn compact was made with the people of New South Wales that the Federal Capital should be in that State, and that we are now carrying out that compact. We have already spent something like £750,000 at the Federal Capital, and if we take into account the amount paid for land acquired by us in the Territory, I should say that our expenditure exceeds £1,000,000. I have not the actual figures before me, and am speaking, therefore, only in general terms. I should not complain of any fair criticism of the manner in which our expenditure at the Capital has been carried out; but I think it is a great mistake to urge at this stage that we should cry a halt in our outlay of public moneys there. The Government will oppose this motion, and I appeal to the honorable member to withdraw it. I doubt whether even those who usually share his views on political questions will be prepared to support this proposition. During the last financial year we have spent something like £250,000 at the Federal Capital, and we intend to push on with public works there. Owing to the unfortunate war in which the Empire is plunged, it is quite impossible to say what money will be available for enterprises of this character in the immediate future. We are not legislating in normal conditions; but the Government intend to push on with the building of the Federal city, and I hope that a few years hence we shall be meeting there. I share the view so often ex-1 pressed in this House that the sooner the Federal Parliament gets away from Melbourne -the sooner we are free from the’ influence of any State capital and are housed at Canberra - the better. I do not wish to suggest that the influence of any State capital has retarded the progressive building up of the Federal movement ib. Australia. It certainly has a tendency in that direction, however, and I believe’ that the Federal spirit will grow more robust than ever when the Common-wealth Parliament is free from any such influence. At the same time, I do not share the view expressed by the honorable member for Maribyrnong regarding the erection of temporary buildings. I disapprove of any such idea as that we. should invite tenders for the supply of old’ iron, and so forth, to enable us to erect, some sort of iron shanty to temporarilyaccommodate the Federal Parliament at Canberra. There is no necessity for anything of the kind. I think that our expenditure, whatever it may be, should proceed along definite lines. We should have before us a clear idea of what we are going to do, so that our expenditure during the next two years, whether it be £250,000 or £1,000,000, will be in accordance with a plan that will ultimately be as near perfection as possible, and lead to the building of a city that will reflect credit upon the Parliament and the people. No matter what party may be in power, future expenditure at Canberramust be largely governed by the financial outlook. I am not strongly in favour of the proposal that the building of the Capital should be placed under the control of a Board or Commission. The time has not yet arrived when such a step’ should be taken. Later on public works at the Federal Capital will be carried on upon a much larger scale, and, no doubt, when we settle there, the present system will have to be altered; but I have never strongly favoured the appointment of Boards or Commissioners. My experience as a public man is that such bodies’ merely act as convenient buffers between’ the people and the Government. It is easy for a Government to shift responsibility on to the shoulders of a Commission ; but, in the interests of the Commonwealth, we should take care to have some one directly responsible for these works, and the Government themselves should be prepared to accept their share of responsibility in the matter. At the proper time I shall be ready to answer in a way that, I hope, will be satisfactory, any criticism of our expenditure at the Federal Capital; but it seems to me that the honorable member for Echuca, in bringing forward such a motion as this, is trifling with a very grave question.
.- I have no desire to prolong the discussion since I know the feeling of honorable members, but the Minister began by making an appeal to me-
– I thought that the honorable member was rising to withdraw bis motion. I wish to speak before he replies, and so concludes the debate.
– The honorable member for Echuca had commenced his reply when the Leader of the Opposition rose. It is now too late for the honorable member to speak to the motion.
– I was about to say that the Minister, after making an appeal to me to withdraw this motion, proceeded deliberately to offer me an insult. An insult must be judged according to the merit or otherwise of the person from whom it comes, and I certainly resent an insult coming from one who is so ornate in his language, so’ highly educated, and so qualified for the distinguished office that he holds as is the Minister of Home Affairs ! I shall not withdraw the motion.
Question resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That, in the opinion of this House, allowances should be made to mail contractors who are suffering severe financial losses owing to the increase in the price of fodder that has taken place since the acceptance of contracts.
Many honorable members on both sides of the House have made frequent representations to the Postmaster-General with the object of securing favorable consideration for the request embodied in this motion, but so far we have had little or no sympathy from his Department. I have here two letters from the Secretary to the Department in reply to representations by me on the subject. In one of these we have the statement that -
The only fair and reasonable course which it is considered the Department can take in this matter is to consent to reduce either the frequency or alter the mode of conveyance, as may best suit the circumstances of the case, and to make a less proportionate reduction in the amount of the subsidy where the circumstances warrant such reduction.
– That would be an Irishman’s rise.
– Quite so. In other words, Mr. Oxenham says that if the people concerned will consent to have their service reduced by 50 per cent, he will reduce the contractor’s subsidy by perhaps only 25 per cent. The contractor would really be no better off.
– He would have to keep the same number of horses.
– And probably the same number of drivers as before. Although the Postmaster-General represents a country constituency, he has to spend much time in Melbourne, and has not come so closely into touch with many of these mail contractors as have honorable members generally on both sides of the House. These men, when they entered into these contracts, never dreamt that the country would soon be faced with the double calamity of drought and war, as the result of which the price of chaff has increased from £3 to as high as £14 a ton. In connexion with these contracts, a deposit of £50 has to be made in some cases, and the contractor has also to find sureties representing about 50 per cent, of the annual amount of the contract. Where a contractor finds it necessary to forfeit he loses his deposit, and his sureties are liable to have forfeited the amount of their guarantee. Honorable members, therefore, will recognise the serious position in which many of these men are placed. I know quite a number who will be forced into the Insolvency Court unless some consideration is shown them by the Department. The Department says that the contractors in tendering had to take the risk of a. bad season and a consequent rise in the price of fodder.
– If they could foretell the weather some months in advance they would be able to make a fortune without bothering about small contracts. i
– If they could have foretold the drought they might have done as certain people in Melbourne, it is rumoured, have done - they might have bought up wheat, hay, chaff, and other fodder, and have become wealthy without bothering about mail contracts. As it is they are in a very serious position, and many do not know how to carry on their contracts. Some of these men have ten horses to feed, and have to cover a distance of about 200 miles each weekin order to carry out their contracts. Imagine the position of a contractor who enters into a contract on a tender submitted when fodder is £4 a ton, and now has to pay £14 a ton for fodder for ten horses. If he can make ends meet now, he must have had a splendid proposition before - something almost as good as a corner in wheat. As a matter of fact, we know that he is not making ends meet.
– There was not much profit before the increase in prices.
– There was very little, indeed, I am not making representations on behalf of those contractors whose tenders have been accepted since the high prices have been ruling, because they will derive a benefit in a few months, when prices fall ; nor am I speaking on behalf of those contractors who were lucky enough to buy up sufficient supplies. I know one contractor who will probably be clamouring for some consideration, whose tender was accepted a year or two ago, but who has not had to pay more than £3 a ton for his hay, because he was lucky enough to buy up sufficient to carry him over to the end of June.No consideration need be given in those cases, but relief should be given to those who have found it almost impossible to carry out the contracts into which they have entered. I did not imagine that our Postmaster-General would offer any opposition to the requests that have been put before him. He is a practical man, and, representing a country district, must know the conditions under which many of these contractors are struggling to-day, and one would have thought that it would only be necessary to bring this matter under his notice in order to secure his full consideration for it, and that we would not have got the kind of replies that we have had from the officials of his Department.
I trust that many honorable members will speak to this motion to-day, in order to show the feeling throughout Australia upon this matter. If necessary, I hope that a vote will be taken, and I trust that the Postmaster-General will not accept it as a vote of want of confidence.
– The main thing to do is to take the matter to a vote.
– I feel sure that the majority of honorable members sympathize with those mail contractors who are in great difficulties.
– What do you suggest in order to bring about an improvement?
– I do not support the proposition to cut down the services. It would be a poor policy to adopt. I consider that inquiries should be made into each case. The number of horses that are necessary to carry on a contract should be taken into consideration, and there should be a calculation of the difference between the present cost of feeding those horses and what the cost would be with fodder at £4 or £5 per ton, and the Department should pay that difference to the contractor. If we were doing the work by day labour we should have to buy the fodder at its increased price, and thus have to increase our expenditure upon the mail services. . The State Governments have set us a good example in this matter. A mounted police constable is allowed so much per week to maintain his horse, and that allowance has now been increased. The States recognise the impossibility of maintaining and feeding a horse at the present time on the amount allowed, say, six months ago. We should treat our mail contractors just as fairly as we treat men employed on the day labour system, and what I am asking the Postmaster-General to do is just what has been done by the State Governments in relation to their mounted police. I hope that the motion will be carried, and that the Postmaster-General will give immediate effect to it.
– I cordially support this motion. I was associated with the convener of a South Australian deputation of seventy mail contractors who had written authority to represent altogether 270 mail contractors using horses for the delivery of mails, and I have personal knowledge of the accuracy of the statements presented to me by the convener of that deputation. These show that in several instances contractors were not receiving for their mail contracts as much as they were paying out for the chaff consumed by their horses, and, in addition, they had to pay for oats. They have not been receiving a single penny for the services they have been rendering to the Department, since the drought has increased th© price of chaff to its present high water-mark, namely, £12 to £14 per ton. This matter has been before the PostmasterGeneral and his deputies for months past, and in frequent replies in the House the Postmaster-General has spoken of the difficulties surrounding the question, and I admit that there are difficulties. The Postmaster-General has suggested that relief should be given by modifying mail services, but I do not think that a modification of the mail services would meet with general approval. In fact, very few would approve of such a proposal, but, even if it were carried out, there would be no substantial relief afforded to the unfortunate mail contractors. They would still have to keep their horses whether they were running with mails once, twice, or three times a week. In most districts the horses could not be turned out; there would be nothing for them to eat; and, even if there should happen to be a paddock presenting a few pickings, the horses used for running mail services could not be turned out on them; they must be kept on hard food. Therefore, the alleged relief suggested by the Postmaster-General would not be a substantial one. An honorable member has said that suggestions should be put forward in order to give relief. I suggest that the “ Postal Department should adopt the method employed by State Governments in carrying out public works. I believe that the Commonwealth Government do the same thing. On these public works, where horses are extensively used, the allowance for the use of horses and drays is fixed at so much per day, and when, during a partial drought, the price of chaff runs from £5 to £6 per ton, as against £3 per ton when a work has been started, it is a common practice for the Government to give a proportionate increase in pay, which continues until the price of chaff recedes to a certain point. In my opinion, that is the only scheme which the Post- master-General can adopt in order to give any effective relief to these unfortunate men. Of course, the Minister may say that any interference with contracts would be very unwise, and that the present condition of affairs is altogether exceptional. I believe that he has said that contractors should fix prices to cover, contingencies, but, if contractors were always to make provision for a contingency such as the unprecedented droughtthrough which we are passing, and which. I hope is breaking up, the Government, would have to pay 25 per cent, more, or even more than that, for the running of their mail services. The PostmasterGeneral might possibly raise the objection that in some instances the Government might be got at by giving relief, bub that possibility would be considerably minimized, if the departmental inspectors, who know the country districts thoroughly, were to arrange the zones affected by the drought wherein this relief should be given. Of course, the zones would extend pretty nearly everywhere, so that there would not be much liability by the Department to be got at. On the other hand, the inspectors would know whether the circumstances of a contract and the price received by the contractor were such as to present a genuine deserving case for relief. I hope that my suggestion will be adopted by the Govern-: ment, and that we shall have a vote on the question to-day, because every fortnight is accentuating the distress among these mail contractors, which distress will not be lessened until after the next harvest.
– There is much wisdom in the concluding words of the honorable member for Wakefield, who says that action, if it is to be taken, should be taken immediately, because the trouble is now at its maximum, and it is while it is at its maximum that some relief should be afforded I wish to say a few brief words with regard to the alleged remedy for overcoming the difficulty suggested by the Department in their own official way.
– They have not suggested a remedy yet.
– Perhaps I am wrong in calling it a remedy, but some of the recent departmental replies to complaints that I have forwarded from persons who have been suffering very acutely suggest that the frequency of the mails should be reduced by 50 per cent.
– That has been done in some cases.
– This is the alleged remedy. This decrease of 50 per cent. in the frequency of the service is accompanied by a decrease of 25 per cent. in the subsidy. Honorable members who have spoken upon this matter previously have claimed that this gives very little relief. I think that it makes the trouble worse. It certainly aggravates the position. The contractor’s expenses are going on just the same as they were with a full service, and he gets less remuneration for it. Thus, instead of being relieved, these unfortunate victims of the drought are placed in an infinitely worse position by this alleged remedy. I raise my protest against this alleged remedy, because, by its means, the Department is making the position of the contractors much worse. The reply usually given by the Department is that the contractors enter into these contracts with their eyes open, and they must take the risk of a drought. Everybody knows that when the contractors tendered for these contracts they would be considering only the normal conditions, and would have no regard to possible abnormal conditions, such as those we have recently experienced.
– Invariably the competition for these contracts is keener than for any other.
– That is so ; the price is cut as low as possible, and the tenders are framed on the supposition that the conditions will be normal. It is almost unnecessary to remark that if the contractors had expected that the conditions would be such as we have experienced during the last twelve months, they would not have accepted the contracts at any price. The officials of the Department say that it would not be fair to the unsuccessful tenderers to give an increase to the men who hold the contracts. I do not think that the unsuccessful tenderers would feel aggrieved, especially if the Departmentgives the so-called remedy that has been proposed. Those tenderers will be only too pleased to know that they missed the contract. Even if the Department agrees to remunerate the contractors, I do not think that the unsuccessful tenderers will grumble; rather will they consider themselves lucky to have missed the contracts. I register my protest against the replies which are frequently given by the Department to the representations of a section of the community who are suffering more than any other section by reason of the disastrous drought. I know of several distressing cases in my own electorate. There are instances in which the contracts are held by women who have lost their horses, and are carrying the mails with borrowed horses. No lengthy statement is required to prove to the Postmaster-General that something should be done, and anything that is to be done should be done at once. Mention has been made of the fact that the State Government in Victoria have given relief to some of those persons who are working for the State. Not infrequently in times of distress relief has been givenby past Governments to those who were suffering most. We know of seed wheat having been supplied to farmers, and of private landlords having reduced their rents, and in many other ways those in a position to do so have gone to the rescue of the sufferers during a crisis. The Commonwealth Government will be setting a bad example by treating in a shameful fashion those who are under engagement to them. I have always maintained that the Postal Department, as an institution run for the benefit of the people, should not be conducted with a view to making huge profits. Indeed, it does not matter very much whether an institution of this kind even pays its way, so long as it gives benefits to the taxpayers. The alleged remedy proposed by the Department in connexion with these contractors is to cut down the mail service and decrease the subsidy.
– The Department does not propose to do that; but several people have been thoroughly satisfied with that arrangement.
– Then those persons are not hard to please. I know of no one in my district who was satisfied with the arrangement; on the contrary, the general opinion is that, under that arrangement, the contractors would be worse off. My own view is that not only would it put the contractors in a worse position, but it would also do an injustice to the residents, because if a biweekly service is reduced by 50 per cent., thepeople in the district will receive only one mail a week.
– I know of a case where the trips have been reduced from six to two a week.
– The authorities ought to be ashamed of themselves. I do hope that if any relief is to be afforded by the Government, it will be given immediately, while the contractors are feeling their lot so keenly. If the present conditions are allowed to continue, some of the contractors will have gone to the wall, and now, before it is too late, is the time for the PostmasterGeneral to act. I am sure that if the honorable gentleman is guided by his own feelings he will not lose the opportunity of doing something to assist those deserving people.
– I have very much pleasure in supporting this motion. The position taken up by the Department is extraordinary, and for it the officials have put forward a number of excuses. On many occasions the Postmaster-General has been questioned as to the intentions of the Department, and his reply has been that due consideration is to be given to the matter and certain concessions are to bo made. That due consideration and those certain concessions, whatever they are, must be given quickly or there will be no mail contractors left in the country. The mail contractors will have to go to the wall, and their bondsmen will be called upon to carry out the contract. If the bondsmen are not men of substantial means, my advice to the contractors is to throw up their contracts, and let the Postmaster-General endeavour to get the money from the bondsmen. The position of many of these men is pitiful, and the conditions are not going to improve before next December or January. The Minister of Trade and Customs, in replying to a question regarding the removal of the duty on chaff, said that the matter would be left in the hands of the House, and that, now rain had fallen, a great responsibility had been taken off the shoulders of the Government. But the trouble is only starting now. The position was bad enough while the dry weather continued, but now that the rains and cold weather have come, stock are dying in hundreds along the roads in the Corangamite electorate. There are dairy farmers who have fed to their stock every penny they had in the world, and now the stock are dying of cold. The coach horses are practically in the same position. The men who obtained these contracts prior to December tendered on the basis of a normal price of chaff. Even as late as last July it was anticipated that the price of chaff would not go much above £4 or £5 per ton during this year. They calculated that there would be a reasonably good crop of hay, and they would be able to get their chaff at a fair price. To-day those men are paying £13 or £14 per ton for their chaff, and they do not know in which direction to turn for the next load. The PostmasterGeneral has said that the position presents great difficulties, but surely the Department can surmount the few difficulties that exist in regard to this matter. Cannot the Department inquire into each contract, ascertain what the contractor has to do, and the price he is getting for the job, and then give him a reasonable allowance ?
– I thought you desired something done quickly.
– We cannot act without inquiry, but I hope the inquiry will be quicker than such inquiries usually are. Surely to goodness the inspectors in the district can ascertain the conditions of each individual contract. On no account should the Department reduce the frequency of the mail service, especially in well-settled districts. It seems to be the aim of the Department not to consider the public, but to endeavour to make the ledger balance as nearly as possible. No consideration is given to the people who live in the country, and who in many cases have to be content with two mails a week when they are justly entitled to four mails a week, if not a daily mail. The circular letter from the Department to which reference has been made is very interesting in its application to the southern portion of the Corangamite district. The Postmaster-General suggests that the contractor should sell his equipment and get a motor car or a motor bicycle, or carry the mail on horseback. I wish the honorable gentleman would go into the district and observe the nature of the roads the residents have to travel over. The only thing the mail contractor can possibly do on most of those roads is to carry the mails on horseback; perhaps a sledge would be even better. That circular recalls to my mind. the circumstances of a request for a telephone in that district. There was a proposal by the Department that the line should be altered so as to be brought nearer to the main trunk line. The residents wrote to me, urging that the route of the line should not be altered, but that it should be allowed to go to the railway station, because they wished to be able to ascertain at the station if there were any goods awaiting them. They did not wish to travel to the station unless the trip was absolutely necessary, and then they preferred to travel on a sledge, such is the condition of the roads. As to the use of motor cars and motor bicycles, has the PostmasterGeneral, who represents a country district, ever seen a country mail going out? If he has, it is strange that he should suggest the carriage of such loads on motor bicycles or even on horse-6 back. In 1903, Messrs. Cobb and Company, of Queensland, had to forfeit their contracts, and were practically ruined, not because of the number of letters they had to carry - for these might well have been carried on horses - but because of the immense loads of parcels.
– What effect has the extension of the parcels post had?
– Personally, I do not know .whether the parcels post has thereby been rendered much heavier. I had an interview with a postal contractor the other day, and his reply to the suggestion about purchasing a motor car was that if the Postmaster-General would’ buy his horses and vehicles he might do so, for he was unable to find any purchaser for them; and he further showed me some immense baskets of parcels, and asked how the Postmaster-General would manage to carry them on a motor bicycle. It has been suggested that some consideration should be given to those contractors whose contracts have a year or eighteen months to run, bub if the PostmasterGeneral is going to do anything, as I hope he will, the men whom he should assist are not those who took up their contracts in December, but those who did so in July, when they could have had no idea of the high prices they would in the future be called upon to pay for chaff and oats. Of course, under the circumstances, there . must be a general policy of “ give and take.” We cannot suppose that borrowers will be able to pay their interest in the way they did when there was plenty of rain and we had prosperous years; now every member of the community is called upon to put his shoulder £o the wheel, and see the country through the trouble. Despite what the Prime Minister has said, the drought has been practically an Australian drought, extending over the greater part of the continent; and those who have suffered ought to receive consideration and assistance. I do not see why the Department should be exempt from the general sacrifice that we all have to make, and permitted, by the policy adopted, to drive not only the contractors, bub their bondsmen, into the Insolvency Court.
.- I trust that there will be some practical result from this debate. I am really astounded at the attitude of the Department. I do not know who is responsible for the extraordinary suggestion that the services should be reduced by 50 per cent, and the subsidies by 25 per cent. ; but it reminds me very much of a story told about a station that was managed from the city. The manager on the station intimated to his principals in town that, owing to the drought, there was going to be a bad lambing, and he received prompt instructions, by wire, to “ postpone the lambing.” When the present PostmasterGeneral first took office there was, in some quarters, a little anxiety, because it was thought that he was rather a dangerous man, but I assured those timid people that there was no more steadying influence than responsibility; and I think the honorable gentleman presents to us an example in this regard. From his place in this chamber, I have heard the honorable gentleman, day after day, railing at the Postal Department for their ineptitude in the way of affording postal facilities; and I am sure that, if he were not PostmasterGeneral to-day, no one would be more severely critical than himself of the way in which these contractors are being treated. It is idle to say that the contractors ought to have taken into consideration the possibility of a drought; such a suggestion is almost adding insult to injury. If these men had had the foresight to anticipate the drought, they could have made a fortune very much more quickly than by driving mail carts. No man could foresee the drought; and, as a matter of fact, the Department of Home Affairs, which supplies fodder for the horses used upon public works, have now to pay for it a much higher price than that at which they undertook to supply it to the men. The Government attitude is really a demand for their “ pound of flesh,” and unless some concession is made, not only the contractors, but their bondsmen, will be ruined. A week or two ago I said that if the Government declined to place a sum on the Estimates for their relief they ought at least to free the bondsmen and contractors from their obligation. But nothing has been done beyond putting forward the extraordinary suggestion that the services should be reduced by 50 per cent., and the subsidies by 25 per cent.
– The horses have to be fed all the same.
– Exactly; and the suggestion of the Department is really one to “ postpone the lambing.” Every contractor has to keep a certain number of horses and vehicles, and there is no chance to turn the animals out on the trip, because, the country is as bare as the floor of this chamber.
– The honorable member, forgets that, according to departmental ideas, these horses are not supposed to eat.
– The horses must bc fed. It might be possible, of course, to reduce the consumption of food a little; but we all know that, under ordinary circumstances, they do not get any more than is necessary, and they have to pull immense loads over unmade roads. In some places the vehicles are loaded with parcels until they represent tons.
– Even groceries are sent by the parcels post.
– There is no doubt that the parcels have increased considerably since the extension of facilities a year or two ago. However, I have not lost all hope of the Postmaster-General, and I believe that the Prime Minister would give sympathetic consideration to any suggestion he might make; but if anything is going to bo done, let it be done quickly. Not one, but hundreds, of these men are facing ruin. The mere fact that we have had glorious rains does not mean that the necessary fodder can be provided at once. The outlook is certainly brighter than it was three or four weeks ago; but something must be done to tide these men over until next November, when the first hay may be expected. In the country districts fodder is £15 to £16 per ton, and even in the city of Adelaide it is £13. The mail contractors deserve every credit for the way in which they have stuck to their business. The Government obtain no cheaper service than this, owing to the competition there is for the contracts, and to the contractors it is, after all, a mere hand-to-mouth business. The Commonwealth has received the full benefit from these circumstances, aud the Government ought to show themselves good employers in this time of trouble.
– I have much pleasure in supporting the motion. One has only to represent a country electorate, and receive the numerous letters of complaint which reach one to understand the conditions under which these contractors labour. Only the other day I received a letter from a friend of mine, a grazier, in the Hillston district, who informed me that he is paying £18 a ton for chaff, and I presume that, radiating from that place, there must be numerous mail contractors paying the same exorbitant price. There is no great profit to be made out of these contracts - at any rate, I never heard of a contractor who retired with a fortune. They are subject to great competition; and a successful tenderer, who has bought horses and so forth, may find himself outbid the following year, and then he has to sell his outfit at a loss. These people contract to carry and deliver mails in ordinary seasons, and, seeing that an extraordinary drought has overtaken them, the Government should extend every consideration. One of my constituents had his tender of £90 accepted to carry a mail three times a week - it was certainly not very far from town. - and he found that it cost him £6 10s. per month, or £78 per annum, to feed his horses, leaving him a return of £12.
– Does he make nothing as wages?
– Nothing. I could quote instances where the whole amount is absorbed. Around Condobolin, a wayback town in my electorate, when I was out electioneering and the drought was on, a great many graziers told me that they had been feeding their sheep for four months, and the same conditions applied to the horses. The honorable member for Indi mentioned that a good many women had taken contracts. One lady wrote to me to tell me that she had taken a contract to deliver the mails to Bena, I think 30 or 40 miles from Condobolin, but that her horses were poor, and she had no paddock to put them in. She even had to put extra horses on to carry -the horse feed, and she begged the Department to allow her to throw up the contract, or to make her a bigger allowance. The PostmasterGeneral, who represents the biggest country electorate in New South Wales, should know the disabilities of which contractors are complaining. I give him credit for having always treated me with courtesy when I have seen him on these matters, and I have every confidence that he will take heed of what we have said, and give the contractors a liberal allowance. I do not blame the Postmaster-General altogether, but, as I notice the Minister of Customs is present, I wish to tell him that I blame the Government for not having moved with the times on the great national question of the fodder duties. The whole country has been affected by the drought. It has hit, no! only the mail contractors, but the pastoralists. The Minister of Customs ought to know that 48£ per cent, of our exports come directly or indirectly from the pastoral industry. On numerous occasions on the floor of the House, I, myself, the honorable member for Wimmera, the honorable member for Grey, and others, have asked the honorable gentleman to take into consideration the remission of the fodder duties, but we could not move him. If the remission had taken place, it’ would have lightened the load on the graziers and pastoralists to the extent of about £1 per ton, and, seeing that tho whole pastoral industry was threatened, the Minister should have given the matter his earnest and sympathetic consideration. All he replied was, “ We cannot give you any information until the Tariff is brought down.” I asked him about the matter again in November and December, and he replied, “ We are considering the matter.” Later, the Premiers of the States met him in deputation, and he said, “ I cannot give the matter favorable consideration until Parliament is again in session.”
– I urged the Premiers to import fodder, and said we would let them bring it in free. I did that in October.
– The honorable member’s attitude showed what a little understanding he had of the interests of the greatest industry in the Commonwealth, which employs thousands of hands. To show in what a petty manner he dealt with this important question, let me tell the House that the only people who could move him and get his consent to the remission of the duties were the cab-drivers of Melbourne. His vision does not extend beyond this city, as is shown by the following paragraph which recently appeared in the Melbourne press -
Mr. Frank Brennan, M.H.B., as the medium through which the recent combined deputation* from fodder consumers, convened bv the Cabowners’ Society, approached the Minister for Customs, has been officially notified that, “ On further consideration of representations made, the Government has now approved of the concession (remission of duties) being extended to hay and chaff of all kinds, and oats.”
While the Minister was considering the question, 8,000,000 sheep were dying, and that amount of wealth was being lost to the Commonwealth, but that fact did hot move him. It was necessary for a few cab-drivers to approach him to get a favorable answer. The greater and wider interests of the Commonwealth got the cold shoulder from him. If the Minister had given the request his sympathetic consideration when it was first made, the mail contractors, the pastoralists, the farmers, as well as the cab-drivers, and, in fact, every industry dependent on horses, would have been relieved.
.- I am in favour of the motion. The Government ought to do something to help the mail contractors in their present dilemma, but I recognise that the problem is a very difficult one for the Postal Department to deal with. In fact, there is no more difficult problem in the Department than the carriage of the country mails. I believe every other problem in connexion with the Post Office is easy of solution, but many and great difficulties surround the question of the country mails. In the first place, we have to decide where the mails are to be carried. The problem is greater in this country i than in any other that I know of, be cause a greater area with a smaller population has to be covered. Complaints have been made in the House from time to time about some portions of the country districts getting no mails; but the Government have to draw the line somewhere, as it is impossible in this country to deliver letters to the home of every settler. Some years ago the Imperial Postal Department announced that there was not a single house in Great Britain that was not visited by the letter-carrier; but that is impossible in Australia. Whenever the Postal Estimates have come up for discussion, the representatives of country districts have complained that portions of their constituencies receive no mails at all; but some time ago the Department overcame this difficulty rather fairly by stating its readiness in any and every case to give the whole of the revenue and bear half of the loss. The system of tendering is, itself, open to many serious objections,, although I cannot see what is to be substituted for it unless the Government themselves undertake to carry the country mails. Another difficulty that we have to contend with is that a contractor will offer to carry the’ mails in times of prosperity for much less than in times of stress of difficulty, although he has not as much work to do, because in good times he not only gets the Government contract, but he gets also the fees for carrying passengers and parcels. In bad times, fewer passengers travel, and fewer parcels are sent, so that there are many contractors who are asking for more money to-day for carrying mails to places to which not as many letters or parcels are carried as previously, because they cannot earn as much from outside sources. I fully appreciate the difficulties surrounding the question, but, at the same time, this case is an exceptional one. Men have tendered honestly and legitimately, and the price of fodder has risen so much as to make it absolutely impossible for many of them to carry on the work. I have cases of this kind in my own constituency, and I hope the Government will be able to announce that they are prepared to give an extra allowance. T believe the postal side of the Department pays. I have not looked at the last report of the Department as regards the item of the carriage of country mails, but
I was pleasantly surprised in previous years to learn that even that part of the Department was paying, because we were receiving, generally speaking, as much for the carriage of country mails as we were paying out in subsidy. There may be a little loss this year on the item, but when we remember that there was a loss of £250,000 per annum on the telephone system, and that telephones are largely used by the people in the cities, it becomes the duty of the Department to ascertain the causes of the loss. If it is not caused by wastage in the Department, it is only fair to raise the telephone rates to meet it. If it is caused by want -of proper administration, I do not say that the public should be asked to pay; but, if not, then the £250,000 should be raised from the users of the telephones, and in that case it would not be unfair for the Department to spend that extra sum on the country mails. I am sure the House, and the people- generally, would be prepared to see even a loss on the country mails rather than a loss incurred for the convenience of city telephone users. I confess I see no way out of the difficulties surrounding the carriage of country mails unless the Government themselves take the work over. In times of prosperity, when there is plenty of feed and chaff is low in price, the contractors may make a very decent profit. But when we come to times of difficulty and drought, they lose considerably, and attempts are made to recover the loss. I believe in a policy that will suit times of difficulty, danger, and drought, just as well as prosperous times. I do not believe in having a policy that depends upon the weather, and I think, in the matter that is now being brought before us, that something should be done that will more than merely meet the exigencies of the day. I am in favour of doing something now; but I strongly hope that the Government will later do something on the lines suggested by me, and that the mails will be carried by the Government itself. To-morrow I shall give notice of a motion that will enable us to discuss this aspect of the question; but, in view of the many urgent cases that exist on account of the high price of fodder and the other difficulties that have recently arisen, I hope that the Minister will, in his reply to this debate, show that he looks favorably upon the request contained in the motion.
.- May I be permitted to. utter one word in support of this motion ? I appreciate the difficulties that beset the PostmasterGeneral’s Department in the work of distributing mails over the whole of Australia during a period of almost universal drought. We know that the PostmasterGeneral has been doing all he can to meet the situation.
– I question that.
– Except by doing it in the only way it can be done. The position, as has been explained by the honorable members who have already spoken, exists in almost every constituency throughout Australia. I have received a number of letters from various contractors within my constituency pointing out the disabilities under which they are labouring, exactly in the same way as they have been pointed out to other honorable members, and documentary evidence might be produced to establish the case these contractors make out. I do not think it is good policy on the part of the Postal Department to make constant variations of the conditions of mail contracts just in accordance with weather or other minor circumstances. The first appearance of dry weather is no justification for a contractor endeavouring to get the PostmasterGeneral to vary his contract, and it is. obvious to my mind that there should be a certain amount of stability in the contracts entered into between individuals and the Postal Department. But the Postmaster-General must bear in mind that this drought, covering as it has done the whole of Australia, was the greatest drought we have had in the history of the Commonwealth, and it covered a greater area than has ever been covered. Fodder has now reached more than twice any earlier price. In 1902, the price of fodder in Victoria reached £6 10s. to £7 a ton. Now it is anything from £12 to as much as £18 per ton, and I think the PostmasterGeneral should bear this in mind in dealing with this question as it has been presented. If he refuses to give any assistance, or declines to meet the phenomenal circumstances that have arisen, the probability is that contractors in future will in their tenders provide against any possible recurrence of drought. If that is done, the Postmaster-General will find that the increase in the mail contracts in country districts will be 20, 30, or 40 per cent, upon what they have hitherto been, and that he will have to pay three or four times as much as would be necessary to give immediate relief to those who are now suffering. The mail contractors who have been carrying the mails in the country districts of Australia during the last twelve months are amongst the most heroic of our citizens. I believe that, as a class, they have suffered great hardships, and have had to overcome great difficulties, and I think it would be good business on the part of the Postmaster-General if he were to act as it has been suggested he should. He may say that the men knew that drought might appear when they made their contracts, but if that argument is persisted in, the contractors will obviously take precautions, and the Department will in future have to pay far more in increased price for contracts than would be sufficient to meet the difficulties of the present situation. I hope, not only in the interests of justice to a deserving class cruelly hit by the drought, but also in the interests of departmental policy, having in mind future tenders, that the Postmaster-General will see that relief is given in those instances where a proper case is made out.
.- I have pleasure in supporting the honorable member for Ballarat in this matter. Hardly anything remains to be said to emphasize the necessity of some move being made in the direction proposed. Although a city representative, I have been approached by the mail contractors of South Australia, where, as has been pointed out by the honorable member for Corangamite, mail contractors have suffered severely. It must not be forgotten that they have yet to pass through a very difficult period. Recently, when out on the western coast of South Australia, I was told that, notwithstanding that rain might come, no farmer knew what stock he would be able to keep in condition through the winter, and that it was possible that almost more damage would be done during the cold weather than during the drought. Another circumstance is that at the present time the roads are heavier than at any other period of the year. On the made roads councils are at work patching up, whilst the unmade roads are in a very heavy condition, so that mail contractors have to carry their mails over roads that are extremely difficult. I do not think that much difficulty ought to be experienced in coming to a conclusion as to the best measures to adopt, but what relief is given should be given immediately. Honorable members for a number of months past have been continually badgering the Postmaster-General on this question. By this time he should have made up his mind as to what the position really is, and as to what measure of assistance he can give, so that it should not be hard for him now to say what he proposes to do. If any mistake is made, I hope it will be a mistake in the right direction, for we have to keep the wheels of this industry going. If they stop, it will be a climax which nobody desires. These mail contractors are as hard working as any section of the community. They have to withstand all ranges of weather; they have to go out and do their work up to time, or risk a fine. Generally speaking, I hold that a good case has been made out for assistance, and I think the PostmasterGeneral cannot have any reason for delaying this matter any longer. The mail contractors will not seek to take advantage of any generosity now extended toward them when tendering again, and I do not think that such circumstances as are now in existence can possibly arise in the future. I hope we shall never see such a drought as this has been, and I do not think it will be possible for such a worldwar to again occur. I hope the motion will be unanimously carried, so that it may operate as a direction to the Government that this matter should be dealt with promptly and efficiently.
Mr. PATTEN (Hume) To. 15].- I rise to support this motion. I wish to refer to one or two phases of the question which have not been touched upon by previous speakers, because it is not wise to be eternally reiterating statements which have been practically proved. There is one phase of the question which is considered very important in New South Wales, and which must have been brought home to the Postmaster-General in his representative capacity by complaints made to him by mail contractors. I could occupy two hours in merely enumerating the complaints which have reached me from different mail contractors in the Hume dis trict; but sufficient emphasis has already been placed upon the general character of these complaints. I should like to say that the replies which have been received from the Department are unsympathetic and cold-blooded legal replies, which are not at all fitting replies to the complaints of those who have approached the Postal Department for relief. They are told, amongst other things, that their subsidies are reduced, and that the reduced subsidies now payable are calculated on a mileage basis, and are strictly in accordance with the conditions of mail contracts. It was quite an artist who, years ago, was responsible for the insertion of that particular clause in these contracts. If there was ever a man who deserved the commendation of the Postmaster-General for relieving the Department from legal obligations, and the necessity to extend sympathetic consideration to mail contractors under extraordinary circumstances, he was the individual who drafted these mail contracts. It was he who inserted in those contracts the words which have enabled the Postmaster-General to deal at the present time in what I consider a very harsh manner with subsidiary contractors on mail lines served by railways. A few months ago. in the State of New South Wales, the Railways Commissioners saw fit to reduce the number of trains run upon certain lines. They rail trains thrice a week over lines upon which, for years past, trains were run daily.
– That was on account of the drought.
– It may have been on account of the drought. I should like to know whether these large mail contractors, the Commissioners of Railways of New South Wales, have been reminded by the Postmaster-General that in future their subsidy is to be paid upon a mileage basis ?
– It has been reduced.
– If it is paid on a mileage basis, how is it that we have had no information as to a reduction in the subsidy paid to the Commissioners of Railways of New South Wales? So far as I can learn, there has been no reduction of that subsidy. Reductions have been enforced upon subsidiary contractors who take mails from stations on a railway line to places in the district served by the railway. The condition of the contracts under which this has been done has operated very unfairly. Many of the mail contractors entered into contracts to take a daily mail, and because the service has been reduced from six to three days per week, the subsidy has been reduced. It should be remembered that the reduction of the service does not lessen the weight of mails which has to be carried. The contractors with a three days a week service have to carry practically the same amount of mail matter as they had to carry under the six days’ service. They are faced with another difficulty, due to the fact that, because they have to put two days’ mails on one coach, their passenger space has been very much curtailed, and they have been deprived to that extent of a side profit to which they looked for assistance. I might mention one case in particular, which seems to me to be a specially hard case amongst a number of hard cases. A man contracted for the carriage of mails from Coolac to Jugiong on a daily service for a subsidy of £175 a year. Because the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales reduced the train service between Cootamundra and Coolac to’ three days per week - and, so far as I know, without losing a single halfpenny of their subsidy - the contractor for the mails between Coolac and Jugiong was notified that his subsidy was reduced to £87 10s. That was in spite of the fact that he had already entered into contracts for the supply of chaff and other fodder at the changing stations en route. He was told, in the most cold-blooded way, that his subsidy was reduced from £175 to £87 10s. per year, and that the reduced subsidy was calculated^ on a mileage basis, and was strictly in accordance with the conditions of mail contracts. He was further requested by the Deputy Postmaster-General of New South Wales to get his bondsmen to sign a new bond at the new rate of subsidy. The bondsmen very properly declined to be parties to the breaking of the original contract, and refused to sign another one. The mail contractor immediately requested that his contract should be voided, but the PostmasterGeneral declines absolutely to void the contract, and insists that the contractor shall carry the mails for three days per week to the end of the term of his original contract for a subsidy of £87 10s. per year, which will not pay him. The man has no redress.
– That is beautiful fair play.
– It is one of the most outrageous things I have ever heard of.
– Was his contract for a six days’ service per week in the first place t
– Yes; and it was faithfully carried out. Merely because the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales saw fit to break their contract for a daily service, the subsidiary mailmen are obliged to fall into line; and, although the Postmaster-General has not indicated that the Railways Commissioners have received a lower subsidy, the subsidiary contractors have their subsidies reduced by nearly one half. When they express the desire to get out of an undertaking which no longer pays, the PostmasterGeneral holds them to their contract. I appeal in this matter to the sense of justice with which I believe the PostmasterGeneral is imbued.
– It is of no use to give the Postmaster-General taffy. You have to get him by the back of the lug to do anything with him.
– I am not attempting to give the Postmaster-General taffy, nor am I attempting the moral suasion - in the shape of a brick - which the honorable gentleman has himself advised. I appeal to him, in the interests of a very deserving class of men, to take a little more sympathetic view of the position in which they find themselves. He might instruct his officers to reply in a more kindly way than by the use of this miserable, cold-blooded, legal phraseology, which is calculated to set the teeth of the mail contractors on edge. It has been pointed out by a number of speakers that these mail contractors will be faced with ruin if they are to be compelled to carry on their contracts under existing conditions and with reduced subsidies. I ask the Minister to be sympathetic in dealing with these men, and, in view of the extremely severe times through which they are passing, to adopt an extreme course, and be generous in his consideration of their case.
.- I am very glad indeed that this motion has been submitted, as it gives honorable members an opportunity to represent their views in connexion with the matter to the Minister. It is not my intention to go over the ground which has been traversed by other speakers. The Minister has asked for suggestions as to the best means to give relief to mail contractors in the unfortunate position in which they now find themselves. Some, no doubt, are carrying out contracts in favoured districts, but in the greater part of the Commonwealth, and in ‘the larger States mail contractors have never had to face more disastrous conditions than those with which they are confronted at the present time. I fear that what they have already gone through is nothing to what they will still have to go through unless immediate help is given them. From his long experience, no one knows better than does the Postmaster-General what it means to be compelled to convey mails across country sodden by the recent beneficial rains with horses weakened by the drought. The mail contractors in such circumstances require a greater amount of feed for their horses, and their trouble is to know how they are to get it. The Minister is aware that I have been continually calling at the offices of the Department, where I am probably looked upon as a bore. I have presented the claims of the mail contractors, and I have made a suggestion in this House, and outside of it, which would, at least, give some amount of relief. When they were faced with the conditions arising from the drought, the Government of New South Wales acted differently from the Governments of other States. They recognised that fodder was worth gold, and, to a large extent, they commandeered the fodder available in New South Wales for their own purposes. They have fixed the price of fodder at the railway stations at 100 per cent, less than many unfortunate mail contractors have been called on to pay to outsiders. It is as essential that the people of New South Wales should be served with their correspondence as that they should be served with their daily bread. In the country districts the correspondence of the people very often means their daily bread ; and, in the circumstances, I am surprised that the Postmaster-General has not been able to make arrangements with the Government of New South Wales to supply mail contractors in .that State with the fodder they require on the same terms and conditions of deferred payment that they are allowing to the farmers in that State. That is the suggestion which I have made for giving some relief in the matter. Like the honorable member for Hume, I have received bushels of letters from mail contractors all over the large electorate of Riverina, and they inform me that they are prepared to struggle on if they are given the modicum of assistance which they might receive from the adoption of the suggestion I have made. They have told me that without some assistance they are not in a position to carry out their contracts. Then the Department will be thrown back on the sureties, and it will be ruin to some of them if they are called on to make good. The outlook is so bad that there is a danger of postal deliveries being discontinued in many places. Should it be necessary, this Government should put pressure on the New South Wales Government, so that assistance may be given in the direction suggested by the honorable member for Barrier. The contractors should also be helped to purchase fodder themselves. Honorable members would stand by the Government to a man if they were to give monetary assistance to the contractors in that way. The. network of red-tape regulations, which makes it almost impossible to approach the Department, must be broken down. I have always looked upon the Minister as a practical man, and I ask him now to rise above these regulations, and to say that as this is an extraordinary time, and it is his duty to keep the Postal service going on behalf of the people of the country, he will assist the unfortunate mail contractors whose position is such that we hope may never occur again. Should he do that, he would be acting in accordance with his own convictions, and will give effect to the wish of every man who understands country conditions. I cordially support the motion, and hope that it will be carried. I hope, too, that the Minister, without waiting to confer with his officers, will recognise the gravity of the situation, and will remedy it.
– I support the motion, and the fact that I do so should show the Minister that the need for action on his part is universally recognised by honorable members. Representatives from every State have voiced the complaints of a very deserving class of persons. Even in good districts where the fodder produced last season was more than sufficient for local requirements, mailmen who do not grow their own fodder are no better off than those in drought-stricken districts, because the price of fodder is almost as high in one place as in another. The drought and the war have created such a demand that there is no surplus, and very high prices are asked everywhere. It is some time since I approached the Department on this subject. I went to the Deputy PostmasterGeneral of Tasmania, and was told by him that the Department could not see its way to do anything. I have been watching the matter closely for some time, and with other honorable members have put questions to the Minister in this House. I am glad that the honorable member for Ballarat has brought things to a head. The Minister, now that he knows what the views of the House are, should not find it difficult to take action, even though in doing so he may go beyond the bounds of red-tape. The case is exceptional. Probably never again shall we have a similar combination of unfortunate circumstances. Those who tendered for the conveyance of mails did so expecting normal conditions, and tenderers must always anticipate normal conditions. I -do not think that the country districts would be as well served were the Government to undertake the delivery of mails, as’ the honorable member for Barrier has suggested. In my opinion, the Government would not be prepared to meet exceptional cases quickly enough. In the district which I represent, this service is difficult of performance, because, although the distances are not very great, the country is hilly, and particularly severe on horses. The Postmaster-General has every justification for getting out of the rut, and doing something that will make himself a name as an administrator. I am satisfied that he will not find it difficult to get his action indorsed by the House. I have heard of cases in Tasmania in which the contractors would throw up their contracts were they not afraid of injuring their guarantors and bondsmen. But, in some cases, the difficulties will be too much for them, and there will be a breakdown of the service. The honorable member for Riverina has spoken of that danger. Such an occurrence would be very disadvantageous to the people in country districts, and to prevent it the Government should give assistance to contractors who tendered thinking that normal conditions would prevail. The Minister has offered relief by reducing the services in some cases; but I point out that a contractor has to feed his horses, whether they are standing in the stable or trotting along the roads.
– And when a service is reduced he has less money with which to buy fodder.
– Yes; if the payment is reduced proportionately. I hope that the Minister will show that he .possesses a little of that milk of human kindness of which we have so often heard him speak. If he does, he will find that the House will support him.
.- I have great pleasure in supporting the motion, the mover of which deserves the thanks ,of the mail contractors, not only of Vic: toria, but also of the Commonwealth. ,>I intend to speak plainly to the Minister. I tell him that the mail contractors will have nothing to thank him for. From the beginning he has opposed every pr.oTposal for relief. Now, it is a case, pf “ Colonel, don’t shoot, I will come down.’.’ Honorable members on both sides are against the Minister on this matter. , I thought that he, before any other, would be ready to grant relief, because he, represents an outback constituency, ;and ,np one knows better than he does the conditions under which mail contractors have to work. Yet, when honorable members ask him to do something for these contractors, he says, “ I will call for a re«port.” That is all the satisfaction we get. He has called for reports times without number, but all the relief the honorable gentleman offers is a reduction of the service by one-half, and the subsidies by 25 per cent. He has done that in my constituency.
– Well, the officials have done it. When honorable members ask questions, the Postmaster-General simply gives a stereotyped official reply. Any one could do that. I direct his attention to an obnoxious clause that has been in the mail contracts for the last two or three years, prohibiting contractors from carrying parcels other than those going through the parcels post. This provision is ultra vires, and inoperative, but it deters some persons from tendering. I know of several instances in which nien have refused to tender because of this clause, and the consequence has been that tha Department has had to pay more than it would otherwise have to pay. A mail man is not allowed to deliver a parcel without getting a signature for it, and, rather than send parcels through the parcels post, I have got Cobb and Company to take them for me, and I have advised my constituents to do the sains. In many places settlers have boxes by the roadside in which their mail matter is deposited; but in wet weather mails are late, sometimes as much as two or three days late. The contractors are not permitted to leave parcels in these receptacles, and, consequently, when there is no one to receive the parcel, it is taken on to the nearest township - which may be 60, 70, or 80 miles away - and a note left in the letter-box to advise the addressee that the parcel can be obtained by going to the township for it. The clause was inserted in these contracts because people were accustomed to send parcels through Messrs. Cobb and Company instead of through the post. It is a provision which cannot be enforced, and the Postmaster-General has already promised to eliminate it from future contracts. There is just one other matter to which I desire to direct attention. When tenders are called for a mail service in western Queensland, if the offers are deemed to be too high, the service is suspended until the residents along the mail route provide the amount in excess of that which the Department is prepared to pay. Then Ministers talk about penny postage. Why, in some parts of my electorate the people have not penny postage, but shilling postage. The honorable member for Barrier has told us the way to overcome these difficulties, and yet he inflicted more hardship upon residents in remote areas when he introduced the system of penny postage than did any of his predecessors. As a result of his action many settlers in the bush have to ride from 20 to 40 miles to obtain delivery of their letters. Such a state of tilings ought not to be continued.
– The authorities promised to re-adjust that difficulty.
– They are still calling for reports - reports which never come to hand. The honorable member for Wimmera and the honorable member for Riverina have told the PostmasterGeneral that, owing to the high price of fodder, our mail contractors cannot continue to carry on certain services unless they are granted some relief. The PostmasterGeneral knows that honorable members have been continually urging him to afford that relief. But all such applications he has consistently turned down. I hold in my hand a letter from one of the principal carriers of our mails in Queensland - I refer to Messrs. Cobb and Company - which puts the position as concisely as it can be put-. The communication reads - 6th May, 1915.
AVe beg to state that, owing to the serious drought-stricken nature of the central and southern portions of Queensland, we have been forced to feed the horses on our lines to such an extent that the strain on our resources impels us to approach you with a view to some relief.
We hoped to have struggled through until the termination of our present mail contracts, but the extraordinary severity and generality of. the drought, together with the exorbitant prices of nil horse feed and team rates, has forced us to approach you, as stated above, to ascertain if you would extend any assistance to us during the continuance of the abnormal conditions.
Our feed bills have increased from £300 to over £1,000 per month, and in consequence we are showing heavy monthly losses in connexion with the mail contracts.
Our subsidies are based on good season conditions, and for your information we are attaching figures showing comparisons of our subsidies for conveying mail matter per ton with what teamsters are getting for delivering merchandize over the same routes, But taking how six to fifteen days to do the trips that our coach does in one to three days. The subsidy averaging 5d. per ton per mile of mail, whilst the team rate is ls. per ton per mile.
You can also note what it actually costs us to handle your mails each year, and you will agree that our subsidies are far from being exorbitant, and we feel that you will recognise that any monetary assistance you grant us during our struggle to fulfil our contracts will not be misplaced.
As shown on enclosed statement the subsidies total £6,885 per annum, whilst our yearly outlay to run the mails (in normal times) reaches to £19,200 (comprising wages, £10,200; feed, £5,000; expenses, £4,000); but now that we are feeding on every line, our yearly expenditure has been increased by £12,000 for feed, making a total outlay of £31,367, which earns £6,885 in return.
The traffic in fares and freights, whilst good in the old days, have been reduced by motor opposition and the general conditions to an indifferent amount at the present time. Although losing the greater part of our revenue from the decrease in traffic, we cannot, unfortunately, reduce our plant or expenses in any way, as the mails have reached such proportions that the same plant is necessary to cope with them.
Might we suggest that as our subsidies have been based on favorable season conditions you grant us double subsidies on our most stricken lines duringthe continuance of the drought?
Commending our appeal toyour favorable consideration.
We have the honour to be, Sir,
Cobb & Co. Ltd.,
Per G. Studdert, Secretary.
Accompanying that letter was the fol lowing table: -
Instead of that firm receiving- sympathy from the Department, it was met with a very curt refusal - a refusal resembling that contained in what the honorable member for Hume has described as a “ blood-curdling document.” Now, I submit that all our mail contractors are not scoundrels. You, sir, know that the country comprised in your own electorate, as well as that at the back of the Maranoa division as far as the New South Wales border, the western portions of Darling, and that included in the Gwydir electorate, has all been severely droughtstricken. Are not the mail contractors in these portions of the country entitled to some consideration ? I was never more disappointed in my life than I have been with the action of the Postmaster-General in regard to these contractors, because nobody knows better than he does how they are suffering. :However, as he now realizes that the entire House is opposed to the way in which the officials are dealing with this question, ^ hope ; that he will speedily -grant the desired measure of relief. “< ,
.- Some honorable members appear to think that it is quite a trifling matter for a responsible Minister to - fling, around public money at the request of anybody and everybody. Hitherto, the complaint against the. Postal Department has been that it is not run upon business lines. Yet the moment we attempt to conduct it on business lines quite a number of honorable members denounce our action.
– There does not appear to be much business capacity in the Department. “ Mr. SPENCE.- I do not know whether the honorable member is in a position to make that statement. I do not think that he is, and I doubt if anybody else is. The honorable member for Maranoa was very unfair in his remarks, because he assumed that as I declined - in reply to questions without notice - to commit the Department to granting relief to mail contractors, I was not sympathetic towards the proposal. He is entirely mistaken if he thinks that this motion was necessary to impress upon my mind the gravity of the position.
– We will see. Let us take a vote on it.
– What would have been the use of holding out hopes that relief would be granted until the matter had been dealt with in such a way that some proposal in that direction could be submitted? Some honorable members have sufficient knowledge to enable them to realize that this is not an easy problem. For example, there are 5,020 mail contracts in existence in the Commonwealth. These cover all sorts of distances, ‘ and the mails are carried on foot from railway stations to post-offices, on bicycles-
– Those carriers are not short of fodder.
– Will the honorable member be quiet? The honorable member for Corangamite spoke of certain persons having to carry huge loads, and I am pointing out that some mails have to be carried on bicycles, others in sulkies, others on horseback, and still others on motor cars. Each of these cases must be dealt with upon its merits. A large number. of our mail contracts commenced to operate on the 1st January last, whilst others were let in October, November, and December, 1914. In other words, they were let during the drought period, when the price of fodder was high, although it was not so high as it is now. These contractors are certainly not in the same position as are contractors who have been fulfilling their contracts for two or three years, and who tendered for those contracts when the price of fodder was low - when it stood at £3 or £4 per ton. Exactly the position occupied by contractors in the latter category cannot be ascertained offhand. From some of the States the Department has not received from mail contractors as many applications for relief as it has received from others. In New South Wales, out of 2,083 mail contractors, we have received only forty-two applications for relief.
– They are asking for relief through their representatives in this Chamber.
– But it is interesting to observe that only that number of applications has reached the Department.
– Including applications through their members?
– Yes. Out of 1,134 contractors in Victoria, 151 have applied for relief. From South Australia there have been thirty-six similar applications. I am aware that a larger number was represented by a deputation which waited on the Deputy Postmaster-General of South Australia. There are 365 mail contractors in that State.
– And 270 sent letters in support of the deputation.
– Prior to that deputation, only thirty-six mail contractors in South Australia had applied for relief. Until quite recently, no application had been received from mail contractors in Queensland. We now have two, one of these being from Messrs. Cobb and Company. Twenty-eight applications have been received from Western Australia, and thirteen from Tasmania.
– The total is not large. It should not take long to deal with them.
– All the States have been visited by bigger and longer droughts than the present one; but I have not been able to find a record of any such action by the Department as we are now asked to take in respect of these contractors.
– The war accentuates the effects of the drought.
– In South Australia the price of chaff has never before been over £8 per ton.
– I wish to give honorable members the facts. An attack has been made upon me, and I am justified in putting up some defence. It may be that I gave what might be calleda cold business reply to this request when it was first put to me; but, at the same time, I was not idle. I, and my colleagues in the Cabinet, had something in mind; but surely we should not be expected to make any statement on the subject until we had actually decided what course to adopt !
– Then, why did not the honorable member say that the matter was under consideration ?
– I have said so. The honorable member for Maranoa seems to think that a Minister can run a Department without obtaining any information for his guidance.
– I want the PostmasterGeneral to do something of his own volition, instead of having the Secretary of his Department constantly at his elbow telling him what to do.
– If the honorable member will allow me to proceed, I should like to say that there is no record of the Department having ever taken such an action as we are now invited to take.
– Our party came into existence because other Governments would do nothing.
– I do not know whether honorable members are trying to “ gag “ me, but I am not going to allow them to do anything of the kind. I have been attacked for having failed, personally, to take an action which, in my opinion, no Minister should be permitted personally to take. I cannot find one instance where a mail contract has been rearranged, and an increased subsidy given because of drought conditions, although, in some of the States, more severe droughts than the present one have been experienced.
– Not at all.
– The difference between the present position and that in relation to previous droughts is that supplies of fodder are now short, and prices are higher than ever before. I have already said, in reply to a question, that I am not individually prepared to take the action which honorable members desire; but I am not sorry that the whole matter has been discussed this afternoon. The debate has been useful, and will afford me some backing in taking action. It would be wrong, however, for a Minister to make a big departure of this kind without seeking for any information for his guidance. I have not yet obtained all the details for which I have asked. In the case of certain applicants, arrangements were made with which they were very well satisfied. A great deal of misapprehension seems to exist as to what was done in those cases. Honorable members have spoken about it as “an alleged remedy.” We have never claimed that the arrangement was a remedy for the trouble ; but, in certain cases, where a tri-weekly railway service was substituted for a daily one, with the result that a corresponding alteration had to be made in the mail services running from those points, a concession was made to the contractors. It was only a small tiling, but it ought not to be sneered at. The concession has been made in those cases, as well as in others where the service was reduced owing to special circumstances. There are now 5,020 mail contracts in existence, comprising 2,083 in New South Wales, 1,134 in Victoria, 823 in Queensland, 365 in South Australia, 354 in Western Australia, and 261 in Tasmania. Of this total of 5,020, 846 commenced only last January, so that they were actually entered into during the drought period. They stand in a different position from a number of others; but it is interesting to note that, of eighteen contractors in New South Wales whose contracts commenced at the beginning of the present year, seven have applied- for relief. One must have particular’s of these detailed cases in order to arrive at a basic system for dealing with the whole question. It is not an easy matter to deal with 5,020 individual cases.
– But 5,020 contractors are not applying for relief.
– The honorable member knows very well that we cannot restrict any action we may take to those who have made application for special consideration. We cannot differentiate. The fact that many of these contractors have not applied for any relief serves to typify their character. No one has more sympathy than I have with these men. No one has a greater admiration than I have for the useful work carried out by mail contractors, especially in the out-back country. The men who carry our mails year after year are reliable and steady, and do a great deal of excellent and valuable work. They are, so to speak, an absolutely essential institution in the districts which they serve. The conveyance of mails is only a small part of the service rendered by them. Many of them carry passengers, and those who have travelled with them as I have done know what a splendid body of men they are, and how deserving they are of consideration. They are used to fighting life’s battle in a resolute way, and I am not surprised, therefore, that there nave not been more applications for relief. They know, too, that in similar circumstances nothing has hitherto been done for them by the Department. But tje point which I wish to emphasize is that we must deal with all of them on the same footing, whether they do or do not apply for consideration. I am not prepared to say offhand whether even the smaller number - the 846 whose contracts only came into operation last January - should be shut out from any relief. Everything will depend upon the basis that we adopt. I have asked the accountant to give me all the information he can obtain as to the financial side of this question. I have read the official report of the deputation which waited on the Acting Deputy Post master-General of South Australia to urge that special consideration should be given to mail contractors in the present situation, and I have also received a report from the Acting Deputy PostmasterGeneral. In some cases a request has been made for an increase of 150 per cent, in the mail subsidy. In South Australia we have a comparatively small number of mail contractors, yet a 50 per cent, increase in the subsidy to mail contractors there would mean an additional expenditure of £1,280 per month. We have been asked to grant an increase of 150 per cent, on their subsidy until the end of the year, but, having regard to the recent rains, fodder, ought to be cheaper by October next. The honorable member for Maranoa has quoted a letter from a company which in its time has paid good dividends. That company has stated its expenditure and the subsidy that it receives for the carriage of mails; but the honorable member argues that we should pay the whole of this expenditure, leaving it to enjoy all the profits derived from the carriage of passengers.
– No. In the statement I read, information was given on that point.
– In their schedule of expenses and revenue, every item appears.
– I have not seen that statement.
– The Minister has had it in his office. His admission satisfies me that he must be under his officials.
– Listening to the letter as read by the honorable member, I gathered that the expenditure and subsidy were given-
– I quoted from a copy of a letter sent to the Minister himself.
– It was not a copy. I understood the letter was a statement of their case. I admit we get a lot of our mails carried cheaply, but the cost is increasing steadily. As a general rule, the contractors are satisfied, because they get revenue from other sources, such as passenger traffic and parcels. I do not wish to be unfair, and I want to say that if the requests appear to have been turned down, it has only been because of the absence of some basis to guide the Department.
– What are you going to do?
– Give the Minister a chance.
– I will tell the honorable member what we propose to do. There is a good deal in the complaints made on behalf of the mail contractors, but they are not the only people that are suffering; and, on the business side of the question, we have to remember that they tendered for the work - in some cases undercutting others - and if relief is given now there will have to be an understanding that, whatever may be done in this case, it must not be regarded as a precedent. We could not carry on business in that way at all. The honorable member for Barrier suggested that we should carry our own mails. It is easy to say that, but what would be the effect of that policy ?
– The suggestion, coming from an ex-Postmaster-General, is, I think, important.
– If the suggestion were adopted, and the Department carried its own mails, it would be taking away from a large number of people some portion of their livelihood, and 1 do not think that would be wise. If we entered into that line of business, we would have to run a carrying business as well, apart from the Post Office, and I am not in favour of that. I do not think that we can get away from the present system of contracting; but in Queensland this year, tenders were invited for a certain work, and, as nobody tendered, the Department had to make arrangements in some other way to get the work done. I think, however, that if we carried our own mails it would prove very costly, and, as I have shown, would probably do a great deal of harm to many people who are at present engaged in that work. I have been trying to arrive at a solution of the present difficulty, but I cannot say just yet what the basis will be. The Government have considered the question of giving assistance to those mail contractors who, in disastrous circumstances, have been carrying on at a loss; and it is proposed to appropriate a sum of money, at an early date, to meet the situation.
– When ?
– As soon as it is possible, and as soon as we get some idea how much would be a fair thing. Just at the moment I cannot say. Owing to the varying conditions throughout the Commonwealth, it is hard to arrive at a basis; and, so far, I do not know exactly what the proposal involves, but I can assure the House that the relief will be as liberal as possible, and given as early as possible. I did hope that I would have been able to make a definite statement to the House this week, but there has been some difficulty in getting detailed information to enable the accountants to arrive at a fair basis.
– Will the compensation cover contracts which have been running for some time?
– That is a matter of detail which I cannot go into just now. It will all depend on how far back we are prepared to go.
– In some cases, threequarters of the contract time has expired.
– I think the announcement I have made will be sufficient for the time being, and that it will enhance the credit available for those who are struggling to carry on their contracts under difficult circumstances. Every one must admire the way these men have stuck to their work.
– Will the Minister ask the New South Wales Government to assist in the matter of cheaper fodder ?
– We will do all wecan to help these people to carry on their contracts.
– What about that obnoxious clause in the contract?
– I agree that that clause should not be included. I was not aware that it was there, and it will have to come out of the conditions in the next contracts. I am not complaining that the honorable member for Ballarat brought forward this matter, because it has shown that honorable members on both sides of the House are unanimous as to the necessity of doing something to help these people.
– Has the Minister arranged that contractors who tendered this year, while fodder was at a high price, should make some return to the Department if there should be a great reduction in the price of fodder?
– No; the Department will not ask that.
– I do not think you would get it, either.
– If we have reasonably good seasons, these contracts will be all in favour of the contractors, but we are not asking for a rebate.
– It was a question of relief for horses.
– It was generally recognised by the Department that there were exceptional circumstances which justified the step taken. I want the House to be assured that, while I have not been able to give a favorable reply to requests made, I have not been unsympathetic. I felt it was better to delay any announcement until I had at my disposal some of the detailed information that I required.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill received from the Senate, and (on motion by Mr. Archibald) read a first time.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 7J/.5 p.m.
Bill read a third time.
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 19th May, vide page 3258) :
Depahtm.es t of Defence.
Division 42 (Central Administration), £73,611
.- In addressing myself to this House for the first time I desire to pay a tribute to the late Honorable J. A. Arthur, my predecessor. I regret very much the fact that there was any necessity for the election of a new member to represent the constituency of Bendigo, and I hope that while I am in the Chamber I shall be able to earn the respect and esteem of my fellowmembers in the way that my predecessor did. I recognise that we are dealing with the Defence Estimates in exceptional circumstances, owing to the peculiar and extraordinary position in which we find our-‘ selves as a nation. The fact that we are engaged in the greatest war in history, in which half the population of the world is fighting, must arrest attention, but it also means that the Commonwealth is experiencing a period of the greatest expenditure it has ever known, though that is but a minor consideration compared with other great issues that are at stake, and sacrifices that will have to be made. The Estimates before us show that the expenditure for this year upon the ordinary disbursements of the Defence Department, and the extraordinary calls upon our resources through, the war, is £1S,254,379, to which, I take it, the supplementary amount passed a week ago, namely, £3,130,000, must be added, making the total expenditure upon the ordinary services of the Department and the extraordinary outlay on account of the war the huge sum of £21,000,000 for twelve months, equal to the average revenue of the Commonwealth for the past five years. Looking at the matter from the stand-point of finance alone, the war must give us serious thought; but it may not be amiss to review some of the causes for the extraordinary situation in which we find ourselves to-day. Even at this stage, after nine and a half months of the war, notwithstanding all the exciting events that have taken place in Flanders, France, Galicia, and Gallipoli, I think we may well look back in order to see how this crisis caine about. This war is not primarily a struggle for the acquisition of territory, nor is its chief aim the securing of greater trade. Behind it lie even greater issues. I have come to the conclusion, after carefully reading the diplomatic correspondence that has been published, that this is a diplomatic war, and that diplomacy, has lamentably failed when put in a very difficult and dangerous position. To my mind, the beginning of the war did not lie in the simple fact that an Austrian archduke and his morganatic wife were killed. I believe that the origin of the war was fear on the part of Austria-Hungary of Servia, which, as the result of the Balkan War, had doubled her population and doubled her territory. The European powers were certainly in agreement that Servia merited some chastisement, and that some reparation should be made to Austria ; but when an ultimatum was issued giving Servia forty-eight hours in which to make that reparation, Russia, with her 157,000,000 people, took a hand in the matter. Despite the fact that the Servians largely are a Slavonic people, had we been in the position, of Germany and Austria, we should probably have questioned Russia’s right to interfere in a dispute between Austria and Servia. Germany and Austria did question her right to interfere, and consequently when Russia took the stand that if Austria crossed the border of Servia the Russian Army would be mobilized, Germany, as the ally of Austria, came into the quarrel; and so when Russia mobilized, Germany mobilized, and France followed suit as the ally of Russia. Now we come to the question of how it was that Great Britain became involved in the war. Prince Lichnowsky, the German Ambassador in London, asked Sir Edward Grey whether Great Britain would remain neutral if Germany respected the neutrality of Belgium, but Sir Edward Grey replied that the British Government desired to keep their hands free; and when he was pressed to say whether Britain could formulate conditions on which she would remain neutral, the German Ambassador even suggesting that the integrity of France and her colonies might be guaranteed, he said that he felt obliged to refuse definitely any promise to remain neutral on similar terms, as Great Britain must keep her hands free. That was on the 1st August. My idea is that Great Britain entered into this struggle because of a somewhat loose but honorable understanding with France as to the disposition of the Fleets of the two Powers, the fact of the French Navy being in the Mediterranean allowing Great Britain to concentrate hers in the North Sea. Sir Edward Grey therefore said that if the German Fleet came through the North Sea, or into the Channel, Great Britain would not stand clear. And so within the short space of three weeks we had seven Christian nations of Europe each at the other’s throat ; and the war has reflected on us as part of the British people. It has been said that Great Britain was not prepared for the war; but, as a matter of fact, the British Navy was never at a higher state of efficiency. I take it that we want to learn something from the war for future guidance, if we get through, as we all hope to do, successfully. I have listened to the AttorneyGeneral and to other honorable members speaking of the struggle in Flanders, and saying, “ If that thin wall there were to break, what would happen to Australia?” To my mind, the whole key of the position lies with Admiral Jellicoe and his Fleet in the North Sea. Calamitous though it might be - if that thin line in Belgium were to break, it would not make much difference to Australia. It is the naval power and strength of the British Empire which keeps us safe. We sometimes talk, perhaps, in a light way, of what can be done, and of our brave Navy, but we do not hold our naval supremacy by singing “ Boys of the Bulldog Breed,” or “ The Navy, the British Navy.” The history of recent naval battles teaches us that success lies, not so much in superior British pluck or gunnery or seamanship as it does in having vessels of greater speed, unci guns of greater power than tie enemy possesses. This was exemplified in the naval battle off the coast of Chili, where our vessels met a superior German force, and were simply wiped out. When those same German vessels, at the Falkland Islands a little later, met the British in better ships, with better guns, the position was exactly reversed. The same thing occurred in the Sydney ‘-Emden encounter. We rejoiced very much that our light cruiser had accounted for the enemy, but the Sydney accounted for the Emden simply because of the fact that she had 6-inch guns as against 4-inch guns on the Emden. The victory ‘was gained by the superior gun power. People sometimes ask why the German Navy, about which we have heard so much prior to the war, does not come out and fight. I will quote from the latest official sources facts which will supply the answer to the question, and I think we can safely say that, if we were in a similar position, we would not have a Navy fit to go out and fight. Let me point out Great Britain’s gun power in the Navy. Taking vessels of 10,000 tons displacement and upwards, Great Britain has twenty-four 15-inch guns on her battleships, throwing a shell of, 2,000 lbs., while Germany has none. Great Britain has ten 14-inch guns, and Germany has none; Great Britain has 162 13.5 guns, throwing shells from 1,250 to 1,400 lbs., whereas Germany has none. Great Britain has 306 guns of 12-inch calibre, throwing shells of S50 lbs., while Germany has 124 12-inch guns, throwing shells from S60 to 980 lbs. In other words, of large guns, Great Britain has 502 guns of 12-inch calibre and upwards, while Germany has 124 12-inch guns’; throwing shells less than 1,000 lbs. Of these heavy guns which can outrange the German guns, we have a preponderance of four to one. So much in partial answer to the question why it is that the German Navy is not anxious to go into the North Sea. The agreement with Prance allows Great Britain to concentrate this power in the spot where it is wanted at this particular time. Since the loss of the Goliath. Great Britain has US vessels from 10,000 tons displacement up to the size of the Queen Elizabeth, with a tonnage of 27,500. Germany has forty-four vessels of 10,000 tons displacement and over, up to her largest vessel, the Derflinger, with a tonnage of 26,600. So that wo have an advantage of seventy-one ships with 10,000 tons displacement and over. Of torpedo-boat destroyers, Great Britain has seventy, while Germany has an advantage,with 136. Of submarines, not counting the few added by Germany during the last two months, Great Britain has seventy-eight, while Germany had thirty-six. This tremendous superiority in naval power is the safeguard, I take it, of the British Empire. It teaches us that the protection which the sea has been to Great Britain for hundreds of years applies in the same way to Australia. Our first arm of defence is the Navy. Not only is that a superior force as compared with Germany’s Navy, but we have to consider the naval power of the Allies with whomwe are associated.France has thirty-six battleships of from 10,000 to 23,550 tons displacement, fifty-three torpedo-boat destroyers, and sixty-two submarines. Russia has eighteen battle-ships with a displacement of from 10,000 to 32.200 tons, 103 torpedo-boat destroyers, and twentyeight submarines. Austria - Hungary, Germany’s ally, has ten battle-ships of from 10,000 to 20,000 tons displacement, eighteen torpedo-boat destroyers, and six submarines. Turkey has one battle cruiser, the Goeben; ten torpedo-boat destroyers; and seven submarines. When the Goeben and the Breslau ran into the Dardanelles, the act was regarded in some quarters as showing a lack of courage, but any one who reads the diplomatic correspondence with Turkey will admit, I think, that it was one of the best moves, from the German standpoint, whichcould possibly have been made. It was the presence of the two ships outside Constantinople that gave the Germans the advantage which ultimately dragged Turkey into the war. To summarize the figures, Great Britain and her Allies have 172 battleships of 10,000 tons displacement and upwards, while Germany and her allies have fifty-five, so that in that regard wo have an advantage of three to one. That is excluding Japan, and not reckoning Italy, which may be involved in the war at any time. Great Britain and her Allies have 226 torpedo-boat destroyers, as against 164 belonging to Germany and her allies. We have168 submarines, as against forty-nine belonging to Germany and Austria. Let us take a glance at the losses during the war. It speaks volumes for the British Navy that, with the larger target, aimed at all the time by the German submarines, we have suffered such little loss in comparison with Germany with her fleet safe in the Kiel Canal. Apart from merchantmen, trawlers, and vessels of that description, we have lost nineteen vessels altogether, Prance five, and Russia four. Germany - I admit that our vessels were larger in tonnage - has lost thirty-three vessels of all classes, and had four interned; Austria has lost four; and Turkey three. That is, I think, a wonderful feat, and one which ought to fill us with satisfaction and pride, because, while we can hold the command of the sea in that manner, we need not fear the result of any war in which we may be engaged. I have often heard it said that we have the teeming populations in the East to fear; that they may come south and overrun Australia; but if we learn the lesson which Great Britain has learned by experience over a long number of years, we shall endeavour to build up and support that naval power in such a way that none of the Eastern hordes will ever be able to put a foot on Australia unless, of course, Australians wish it. The expenditure on defence teaches us a lesson, and has been doing so even since the establishment of the Commonwealth. In the first year of Federation, all that we spent on naval expenditure was £178,819; while the military expenditure in that year was £780,260. In other words, for every £1 we spent on the Navy we spent £5 on the military. During the years 1902, 1903, 1904 and 1905 we gradually increased our naval expenditure, until in 1906-7 for every £1 we spent on the Navy we spent £3 on the military, until we got :to the year 1913-14. It will be seen how the position relatively changed. In the Commonwealth the idea with regard to naval power was growing in such a way that for every £2 we spent on the Navy we spent £2 15s. on the other arm of defence in 1913-14. When the war broke out, our naval expenditure was gradually increasing to the point when it was getting well up to the expenditure on the land Forces. The lesson we have learned from the war, I take it, is that Australia’s first and most important line of defence is the Navy. There are one or two other lessons which we may learn from the war. The only ammunition we produce in Australia is the .303 ammunition for the rifle. We do not produce a shell fit for field artillery or for the Navy. Surely, in the light of our experience, the time has arrived when Australia ought to be a self-contained country so far as defence is concerned ! With regard to the production of rifles, we are not, perhaps, doing all that could be expected. I have been told that to many of the men who have been at Broadmeadows for ten weeks and over, we have not been able to supply a rifle; that some of them had never handled a gun before they went into camp, and had not fired a shot before they were put on a transport. I think that after nine and a half months of war Australia should have been more alive to the necessities of the position than she has been, and made more determined efforts in the production of rifles. In my opinion, we can learn something from what the Germans have done with their undersea craft. Although it is true that the vessels above water are still supreme, yet the use which has been made of the submarine in the war can teach us in Australia a lesson which I think we might well learn. In the use of air craft, too, we have something to learn. I remember how slow we were about teaching our men how to use and control this new method of warfare. There has been some talk of Australia being consulted in respect to the terms of peace. It seems to me that the war arose through having two diplomatic groups in Europe. The difference between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente has resulted in a most deplorable and shocking war, which I say unhesitatingly is a disgrace to our common humanity, aud no credit to Christianity. The only thing which I think would be likely to make for a lasting peace would be the creation in Europe of one diplomatic group which would control and police it. If we could bring about the formation of one group instead of two, I believe that there would be a reasonable prospect of having peace for a century. A good deal has been said, and we have had some experiences brought closely home to us, in reference to the way in which the war has been conducted. I have had an opportunity to read Mr. Morgan’s book, and the instructions given to the German general staff. It seems to me that the false teaching instilled into the German military mind is responsible for many of the atrocities which we have heard of and read about, and which have been confirmed from quarters we could not doubt. When so many of these barbarities are committed by instruction, it seems as if the Germans are prepared to adopt almost any means as long as they achieve success. The only consideration which seems to place any restraint on them in the commission of any act is the fear of retaliation. For that reason, when the enemy adopt now and cruel methods of warfare we are justified in resorting to the same methods. The enemy have set the pace in this direction, and we cannot afford to be placed at a disadvantage which will cause suffering to our troops and a set back to the cause for which we are lighting. Looking at the war from an Australian standpoint, we may learn from it some lessons which will be of benefit to lis, if we are wise in our day and generation, and endeavour to profit by the happenings in Europe to-day. I cannot conclude my speech without expressing the satisfaction and pride I feel in the conduct of the Australian troops since they landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. As an Australian born, I never had the slightest doubt as to how Australian troops would conduct themselves when they were confronted with the dangers and difficulties of the battlefield.
– I regret to interrupt the honorable member, but his time lias expired.
.- I desire to draw the attention of the Assistant Minister to the delays that are taking place in making payments to the wives of British reservists who have gone to the front from Australia, and the mistakes that are apparently occurring in the
Department in respeot of such payments. More than one case has been brought under my notice, but there was a particular case, in which the money was sent to the wrong woman, who lived in a town distant from that in which the woman who was really entitled to the money resided. The latter was compelled to travel a distance of 120 miles to Sydney to investigate the mistake, and she complains of scant courtesy from the authorities when she arrived there. She was told to recover through the Postal Department the money that had been wrongly sent to another person, and, of course, that direction only, involved her in further trouble and expense before she was able to get the allowance to which she was entitled. Most of the British reservists who have gone to the front from Australia were men who had come from the Homeland to settle in Australia, and I hope that in future their wives and dependents will receive more attention in connexion with the payment of money which comes, not from the Australian Government, but from the British Government. Another matter which the Committee ought to take cognizance of is the careless manner in which the . military authorities seem to deal with any suggestion emanating from any person outside their own caste. One invention by a young Australian was offered to the military authorities here and disapproved of; the inventor obtained permission to take the invention to England, where it was readily accepted by the British military authorities. There have been other cases in which persons have offered inventions to the Commonwealth Government and the military officers have refused to even meet the inventor, who has merely received a curt reply that enough had been said on the particular subject. Whilst, no doubt, the heads of the Defence Department are bothered with offers of many things that are of no use to them, still if they get only one good invention out of a thousand offered to them, that result would make worth while a consultation with every inventor. Germany’s success has been largely due to the fact that she has embraced every opportunity to collar any invention, whether it emanated from the mind of a German or an inventor of any other nationality. Our military authorities should not take up the attitude that they know everything that is to be learned about the art of warfare, but should recognise that there may be somebody who can tell them something they have not yet learned. They should at least consult every person who offers an invention to the Government, and ascertain whether the invention is likely to be of service to the country or not.
.- When the honorable member for Bendigo reads to-morrow the proof of the speech he made to-night, I think he will regret a great deal of what he said, and will come to the conclusion that he wasted fully half-an-hour in his maiden speech in this House. At this period in the world’s affairs the Government supporters and, the members of the Opposition should work together in order to secure a full utilization of the country’s resources, with a view to hastening the termination of this terrible and cruel war. At this time we should not expose any weaknesses, if such exist.
– There was nothing hostile in the speech of the honorable member for Bendigo.
– I am referring to his remarks concerning our inability to supply arms for our troops, and I consider that the statement which the honorable member made was. very indiscreet. We are discussing the Estimates this year in unique and painful circumstances. The Commonwealth is involved in a war of unprecedented magnitude, which we all deplore, and hope to see brought to a speedy close in favour of the British Empire and its allies. Even as we discuss the Estimates, our minds and hearts go out to the brave lads who are taking their share of the fighting against a powerful foe. There is not a member of the Committee but is very much interested in the welfare of our troops at the front, and some of us are very directly and personally concerned in the news that comes from the battlefield. We admire the fight which is being put up by our Australian comrades, and regret very much the sad losses our Expeditionary Forces have sustained, more particularly the latest loss by the death of Major-General Bridges. Turning more particularly to the vote that is before us, I think the Government might take notice of the suggestion made by the honorable member for Hunter in regard to making early use of Port Stephens as a naval base. Nature has been kind to us by providing there a good harbor, which, at little expense, can be made of great use in defending the whole of the north-eastern coast of Australia. I made the same suggestion two or three years ago to the then Government, but at that time my voice was as that of one calling in the wilderness; but I sincerely hope that the present Government will lose no further time in putting that splendid harbor to the uses for which it is so well adapted. The honorable member for Corangamite drew attention to what he considered the injustice meted out to some Victorians who were offering their services as officers in certain commands. I have had the same sort of complaint from scores of officers in Queensland. Perhaps it is a very excellent sign that so many capable and efficient officers are offering their services that the Government are not able to accept them all. But, whenever those men are wanted, they will be willing to go to the front and give to Australia and the Empire the benefit of their long training. In regard to the medical appointments, I do think that some of the Queensland medical men have been overlooked, and appointments have been given to southern men who had no claim by reason of previous service to any such preferment. Some Queensland men who held the rank of captain were refused appointments in favour of other men who had never served in any capacity with the Military Forces. I do not like to voice criticism on these matters, because I would prefer to believe that the Department is trying to select the best men, and that every capable man will in turn get his chance. I can only express the hope that future appointments will be distributed as equitably as possible over the whole Commonwealth. I venture to say that no Department has laid itself more open to criticism, not only in regard to recent actions, but on account of its administration for some considerable time past, than has the Defence Department. The remarks I am about to offer may be considered somewhat severe at the present time, but I assure the Assistant Minister and the Committee that I shall not be one-tenth so severe as I would be if I did not feel that during this crisis we should curb our criticism as much as possible. My remarks have to do particularly with the contracts that are being let by the present Government through the Defence Depart ment. The Commonwealth is happily in a position to meet its financial responsibilities and pay for what it gets, but at this time the utmost economy should be practised, not only with regard to ordinary munitions, but also with regard to the best of all munitions - bur finances. The honorable member for Maranoa may be congratulated on the manly retreat he made from an untenable position when he found that he had said something that was incorrect about a certain firm in Brisbane. Having given expression to his thoughts, when he had been informed in regard to the facts he made ample apology; and I only regret that the Minister did not follow that very laudable example and withdraw what he had said. I am now again referring to the bread contract for the Enoggera camp, and I may say that, not only in regard to that camp, but in regard to others, there are general complaints in this connexion. It is to be hoped that the Minister will look into the matter and see that there is no waste, for I am given to understand that certain contractors who have, in a given period, to supply a certain quantity, do so, with the result that much is left unused. I do not know whether this matter comes directly under the supervision of the Assistant Minister or under that of the Minister himself; but, in any case, the Government are responsible. Some time ago there were paragraphs in the Brisbane Labour daily newspaper dealing with the subject. One of these had reference to an Inter-State conference of unionist bakers in one of the southern States, and stated that the delegates, on their return, reported having seen Senator Pearce with reference to the Enoggera bread contract being given to a union bakery, and were highly pleased with the result of their interview. The other paragraph was a report of a meeting of operative bakers at which a hearty vote of thanks had been passed to the honorable member for Brisbane for his efforts in securing the contract for a union bakery. The first paragraph referred, of course, to a time prior to the contract being let, and the other to a time subsequent to the contract. The Assistant Minister, I think, put up a very poor defence when he said that the Automatic Bakeries Company had. not been given the contract because they refused to employ unionists and did not concede proper working conditions. I wish to give these two statements a most emphatic denial. A representative of the Automatic Bakeries Company has written saying -
We have never refused to employ unionists, as we never nsk what a man’s politics are. To-day I have made inquiries, and find that a large number of our men (not bakers) are unionists. On the formation of this company the operatives decided that Chey would not work for us. The then president and treasurer (Messrs. McCarthy and Nash) were employed in one of the shops taken over by us. Before they decided what to do they asked us to employ only unionists in that shop, and only such unionists as the president approved of. This, of course, we refused. On the day we started business these unionists left us. As to wages, ours are the highest in the city, being above the Wages Board award. We do not know what the successful contractor pays. There are four workmen also in that firm besides the contractor, and, of course, these men work under no award.
The company further wrote to another honorable member, whose name I need not mention now, as follows : -
The Bakers Union prohibits any of its members working with us. A few months ago we were in urgent need of an extra hand to see us through a rush, and one man we approached, though he was up in years and only had casual work, refused, because lie said hu dared not on account of the union attitude to us. The cause of the union antipathy is the usual one of the fear of machinery doing away with manual labour. Other bakers, of course, have the fear that we might get too much trade, and so have helped to fan this antipathy in order to gather union trade. The successful contractor was the principal master baker to follow these tactics. Mr. Hall, the N.S.W. Attorney-General, came up hero on a special mission to inspect this factory, and went away so pleased that he is going to establish a similar one in Sydney for the Labour Government. I am sending you a booklet explaining our system, and you will see by it that we deserve the thanks of the community instead of the condemnation of some. Clean bread should be compulsory, and one has only to visit the majority of present day bakehouses to feel sure of the need of reform.
In the light of what I have read, let us look at the conditions under which the union firm works. The secretary of the Automatic Bakeries writes to say -
I have made inquiries, and I find that the registered members of the company are Walter Shead, a’ Dane or other Scandinavian; Emil Bruschuiler, senior, Emil Bruschuiler, junior, evidently Germans; and John Marment and William Costa, whose nationality I do not Know. ifr. Sinclair.
Thus there are five shareholders, the last four of whom work in the factory, and, of course, are not under the “Wages Board award.
– Are the Germans naturalized ?
– I have not the slightest idea.
– What is the point?
– The point is that German unionists appear to be preferred to Australian non-unionists.
– Is this a German bakery ?
– I would not like to say that it is a German bakery; there seems to be a mixture of Scandinavians, Germans, and I know not what. However, Mr. Shead is recognised as the owner of the business, and the others as mere dummies for the purpose I have mentioned. I should now like to refer to the matter of the prices, with which, I regret to say, the Minister did not fully deal. No doubt, 15s. per 100 lbs. was the correct price when the contract was completed, but there was a condition that the price should rise ls. per 100 lbs. as the price »f flour rose. When the contract was accepted, in February last, the price of flour was 14s., but it has now risen to 17s. 6d., so that the contractor is now receiving 18s. 6d. per 100 lbs. of bread, aa compared with 13s. 3d., the amount named in the unsuccessful tender. I have it on authority that I regard as fairly good, that the price now being paid by the Government is what I have stated; and it means that this unionist bakery will receive from the Defence Department about £1,300 in a period of five months.
– But would not the price mentioned by the unsuccessful tenderer have risen with the price of flour?
– No ; that was a straight-out tender for 13s. 3d., without any rise.
– I think he must be glad he did not get the contract!
– He was asked if lie could carry out the contract, and was prepared to do so: and he assures me that he had quite sufficient flour in stock to carry him over the period. If we examine this a little more closely, we find that the successful contractor is subsidized at the rate of about £650 per man per annum, so that be may employ these dummy shareholders.
– Just for the information of the honorable member, I should like to inform him that no persons can get a contract with the Defence Department unless he makes a sworn declaration that he is not of the nationality of the enemy. That disposes of the argument of the honorable member.
– That does not get away from the fact that these men may be naturalized British subjects.
– They cannot get a contract, even if they are naturalized.
– These men may be Australian Germans for all I know, and I do not say that they are not; but it is a matter that should be inquired into.
– Does not the Defence Department take ‘charge of naturalized Germans 1
– I do not think that that is done in Australia, although a great number have been taken charge of by the Government at Home.
– I know of full-blooded German doctors who have gone to the front to look after our soldiers there.
– And some very fine Germans have gone from Queensland to the front.
– And yet the honorable member is trying to make capital out of the employment of these men in this bakery !
– I am endeavouring to show that this matter will not stand investigation - that the Minister started out, in the first place, to give preference to unionists, and never made any inquiry as to the relative merits of the two bakeries. The Automatic Bakeries Company, I say, is superior to the other in every respect; and, therefore, should have had the contract, more especially as their price was ls. 9d. lower when the tender was accepted, showing now a difference of 5s. 3d. per 100 lbs.
– What is the retail price of bread in Brisbane?
– I think it is 9d. the 4-lb. loaf.
– The Defence Department is paying 7d. wholesale, and yet we are accused of robbing the public funds!
– That is not the lines on which I conduct my business, which is to make money when I honestly can.
– How does the honorable member’s argument apply to the case of the mail contractors, in regard to which honorable members are asking the Government to increase the subsidies ?
– Let the Minister get back to his own argument, which has not been withdrawn, that the Automatic Bakeries Company would not concede proper working conditions. I have shown that they conceded the very best conditions, as is proved by the fact that the men working for them have no desire to work for others afterwards. They do not lose their men because of any harsh treatment, and there is no comparison between the working conditions in the two establishments. The Automatic Bakeries Company had sufficient flour at a price which would have enabled them to carry out the contract to the end of June, and they were prepared to do it. The Department knew this, and it was not out of sympathy for them, lest they should lose on the contract, that the Department gave the contract to the other firm. It was because that firm posed as unionists, and political influence was brought into the matter, and they gave the contract to their friends at a handsome price, which represents a subsidy of about £650 per annum to the union workmen whom Mr. Shead employs.
– Be careful, Mr. Finlayson is coming back.
– The sooner he comes back the better. If he replies to anything I have said, it will be the first time he has done so. If it is a matter of punching, for every punch he gives I will give another back. However, when the papers in connexion with the contract are laid on the Library table, we shall be able to satisfy ourselves by first-hand evidence as to the truth of my statement, which has been partly backed up by the Minister himself, not only with regard to the first contract price, but as to the price the Department is paying for bread now. We have nothing to do with what is being paid outside-; and if a contractor is prepared to supply us at £5 a ton less than he charges the outside public, the Government should accept the tender.
– I fully understand the desire of the Committee to get the Estimates through as speedily as possible, because most of the money has already been spent; but I should like to indorse the remarks of the honorable member for Newcastle as to the neglect of the Department to encourage inventors who feel they have produced something that will be of great service to their country. My experience is that the Department treats inventors as if their sole purpose was to annoy the Department, and their sole ambition that of monetary gain. I have some knowledge of mechanics, and I believe that, in many cases, if a little encouragement had been given, the invention would have been of use to the Department. On one occasion the Department was offered what appeared to be a very useful appliance in connexion with aeroplanes, and eventually the inventor received a letter from the French Government, who were prepared to pay his passage Home to test his invention. I believe that part of that invention has now been adopted by them. For some time I have endeavoured to impress upon the Department the necessity of better pay for warrant officers, artificers, and sergeantmajors in the Military Forces. They are soldiers, and many of them have been soldiers from boyhood. They have gained their present positions by merit, and, unless they became commissioned officers, could get no higher. They are really the teachers of the officers that have gone to the front, and of the officers at present in charge of the Military and Naval Forces. They are receiving only lis. a day. They have applied for permission to go to the front, being far more qualified than any who have already gone, but they are refused the opportunity. They feel their position very keenly, because some of those whom they have taught have passed their examinations, and are receiving 18s. and £1 a day. Many of them have families, and find it difficult to keep un their positions and meet regimental and other charges with their present salaries. They are not entitled to pensions, and have to retire at the age of fifty-four or fifty-five, when they are thrown on the world with”out commercial experience, and with no opportunities of following other occupations. I have endeavoured, with other honorable members, by deputation, to get them an increase, and a promise has been made to give them some sort of pension, but up to the present we have heard nothing from the Government or the Minister or the Defence Department to show that any recognition of them will be forthcoming. They hold very responsible positions. Some of them, especially the gunnery artificers, have left the State service to join the Commonwealth Forces, and have not got even the recompense that they would have got if they had stayed in the State service. Much of the work they do is of a secret character. I trust the Minister will give them some recompense, either by increasing their pay while they are in the service, or by providing them with something to live on when they retire. With their present salaries, it is impossible for them to make provision against old age. They are men of fine character, and I am sure the people would not wish them to be badly treated. Their work is comparatively unknown to the general public, and they cannot go on the public platform to secure redress*. We must indorse the Minister’s policy of keeping in Australia some men of experience, in case we are called on to defend ourselves; but that is no reason why these officers should be deprived of the emoluments to which they are entitled. Their services would be most valuable at the front, but they are told that they cannot be spared. If they are so valuable that the Department cannot afford to lose them, the Department should do as any private firm does when it desires to retain special employes - give them better pay. A member of my family only recently got a rise of £8 a month from his firm because another firm wanted him. It would only be good business to pay these men better in order to retain them in the service. When the matter was brought before the Minister, he made some sort of a promise that a superannuation scheme or some other form of compensation would be given to them, but we know that superannuation schemes dealing with men over twenty-five years of age make a very considerable drain upon the incomes of those affected. We cannot at this stage of these men’s lives place them under a superannuation fund that will provide them with an income at all adequate for their needs when the time comes for them to retire. Nevertheless I feel that some recognition should be made of the loyal and faithful services they have given to the country.
.- I recognise that the debate on these Estimates is more or less a matter of form, though there are a great number of things that one would like to say about the Defence Department, not altogether of blame, because we recognise that in this crisis the Department is to be congratulated upon the success which has attended its efforts in despatching so many men to the front at a time when we were altogether unprepared for such a heavy drain on our resources. My only object in rising is to bring under the notice of the Minister a matter that seems to have been lost sight of, but one which, I think, is very necessary for the adequate training of our cadets. I refer to the erection of drill halls. “When the present Government was in office prior to the accession of the Cook Government, the Minister of Defence promised that a number of drill halls would be erected in various electorates, and a large sum of money was placed upon the Estimates for the purpose. My electorate is one which in certain seasons of the year has a very heavy rainfall indeed. The Minister recognised the necessity of protecting the cadets during those wet seasons, and consented to the erection of four or five drill halls there. I do not know what has happened to these propositions. They are hidden somewhere in the ramifications of the Department. I am speaking more particularly in regard to the proposed drill halls at Murwillumbah, Mullumbimby, Coraki, and Lismore. I get very tired of going to the Defence Department to find out what has been done. All I know is that the halls are not erected, and I ask the Minister to see if it is not possible to expedite matters a little bit. I recognise that the- demands upon the Department at the present time are very great.
– I have approved of at least a hundred new drill halls since I have been Assistant Minister.
– Exactly.; but these particular drill halls were approved of three years ago, and I think it is about time that we got a little bit beyond the approval stage. I am not saying where the blame is - whether it is in the De fence Department or in the Department of Home Affairs.
– I have sent these matters to the Home Affairs Department.
– What I complain of is that the Defence Department, after sending these propositions to the Home Affairs Department, apparently allow them to drop. The. only information given is that “ the matters are now in the hands of the Home Affairs Department,” and that the Defence Department have no further interest in them until the buildings are erected and ready to be handed over. It should be the business of the Defence Department, as the originators of these schemes, to follow them up and see that the Home Affairs Department keeps moving. The Defence Department tells the Home Affairs Department they have approved of a certain site; then the Home Affairs Department set to work to get the land. There is further delay while the Defence Department approve of the plans - and so it goes on from stage to stage. Years are occupied in doing what should be done in months.
– The fact of the matter is that the heads of the Departments are so often before Select Committees, Public Works Committees, and Defence Committees that they cannot give their own Departments sufficient attention.
– Is that the trouble? It is something quite new. But these Committees have only been in existence a short while, whereas the plans to which I refer were passed three years ago. I ask the Minister to give me his assurance that he will endeavour to see that these works are carried out within a reasonable time. If the Minister will find out where the blame is, and have the work put in hand with the shortest possible delay, I will be content to resume my seat. I do think, however, in the circumstances that I have been very long-suffering, and the people whom I represent have been longsuffering, whilst the cadets are getting wetter and wetter as all this goes along. In fact, in normal times they scarcely have the opportunity of getting dry, and as most of them live in the country districts, and have to ride a few miles into town to be drilled, and after drilling in the wet have also to ride home in the wet, sickness is very often the result. I think iti the circumstances the Defence Department might do their utmost to get these halls erected in the shortest possible time.
– I am in accord with the honorable member for Richmond when he says that it is a more or less waste of time to discuss these Estimates, and my remarks will not be of very great length. Last night we had a very interesting discussion on the appointment of officers in connexion with the Expeditionary Forces. An incident has been brought under my notice to-night of a young man who entered the ranks at Broadmeadows and worked his way to the position of actingsergeant. About a fortnight ago an examination was held to see which of the aspirants1 to commissions were entitled to go on to the School of Instruction for Officers. I am given to understand that only two in connexion with this particular division were successful in passing the theoretical examination. One of them has been sent to the School of Instruction without any difficulty having arisen, though I am led to believe that a certain amount of influence was exercised in order to get him there. The other, however, has not gone forward. We all object to anything of that kind creeping in in connexion with our Expeditionary Forces, and the reason I mention the case is to remind the Minister of the circumstances, and to ask what he intends to do in the future in order to avoid anything of the kind happening. If there are to bo qualifying examinations at all, it is only fair that the candidates who are successful should have an equal opportunity of going forward.
– Perhaps one was a unionist.
– I did not inquire into that. All I know is that the young man I refer to possessed every physical and mental qualification, and was eminently fitted to go forward. One question that has been referred to in the course of this discussion has reference to assistance being given to those who have inventions likely to bc of value in this -critical time of our national history. I recognise that there are many men who imagine that they have all the inventor’s qualifications. There are many who think they can do all sorts of things, but when the practical test is applied there is very little in them. A case I have in mind is that of a man in my own division who has invented an improvement on aeroplanes, which is supposed to give automatic stability. The invention is not merely the outcome of hare-brained ideas. Some of the Defence officers who have inquired into this invention have reported upon it very favorably. The inventor is asking for some assistance from the Defence Department to enable a practical trial of his invention to be made. I am convinced that there are many honorable members who are prepared to support Australian inventors in every way they can. One case of the kind has been mentioned by the honorable member for Newcastle, and I believe that if the Defence Department could see their way to give this man an opportunity to demonstrate the value of his invention, it would be greatly to the advantage of the community. I wish to say a word or two on the subject of the Area Officers. When the last Government were in power, a regulation was issued that Area Officers should have their salaries increased from £150 to £180 per annum -after the’ lapse of a certain time. But the length of the service which was to precede the increased pay was so great as to practically prevent any good effect following from the regulation. Thousands of the young fellows who have gone to the front with our Expeditionary Forces owe much to the work of the Area Officers, and it is difficult to put a cash value upon their services. It would be in the best interests of the community to make some provision for a more generous recognition of our Area Officers in the future. In the beginning, these officers were permitted to engage in private work outside the Defence Department.
– So they are yet.
– The demand made upon their time for defence work is much greater than it was some time ago, and they are not now receiving adequate remuneration for the services they render. It is shown by the Estimates that, in connexion with universal training, we spent £209,000 in the last financial year, but the amount has been increased for this financial year up to £900,000. This is an indication of the added responsibilities, and the increased work of our Area Officers; but the Estimates show an increase of only £3,000 for their remuneration. The Minister should, in his reply, give us some information in regard to this matter.
.- I have a few words to say before these Estimates go through. Reference has been made to the use of influence in the appointment of officers. I have not the slightest doubt that influence is used. It is not a question of whether a man is a unionist or not. There is an influence which, in this connexion, is greater than union influence, and that is social influence. One young man with considerable experience came to me to see if I could get a commission for him. When I spoke to the Minister on the subject, I was told that that was being left entirely to the Military Board. I said, “Very well, that is fair.” The Military Board turned down this man’s application for a commission. A fortnight ago his father wrote to me to this effect, “ I know that you did your best. You did not believe that influence was being used. I went to see a certain sharebroker who knows one of the officials, and my son has now got a commission.” I have another case which I can mention - that of Joseph William Pearce, of Ballarat. He had never had any uniform on for years, and had never taken part in the compulsory training; but he enlisted at Broadmeadows, and within less than two months he was sent away with a contingent as a second lieutenant. His father is a wealthy mine-owner at Ballarat East. The Minister says that no influence is being used in connexion with these appointments; but I have here the report of a colonel on this case, in which the statement is made. “The records of this office show that Pearce had four years’ training with the Geelong College Cadets.” I do not know when h& had that training, but it must have been many years ago. There was no compulsory training at the time. That was all the experience this man had, and during the last few years he had nothing whatever to do with the Military Forces. After a month or two at Broadmeadows, he is turned out a full-blown second lieutenant, and will have charge of a platoon of sixty men. Sixty of our boys will be in charge of this man, who has had practically no experience. This is a question, not only of the improper use of social influence, but of the lives of our soldiers being intrusted to men without experience. I trust that the Minister will make the fullest in quiry into this case, and will let us know how these appointments are really made. Speaking generally, there is a very uneasy feeling about the matter: and, as I have given the name of the officer in this particular case, the Minister will be in a position to make a full investigation into it. The honorable member for East Sydney mentioned the case of the sergeantsmajor, warrant officers, and noncommissioned officers generally. They are almost absolutely prevented from obtaining commissions because they belong to the rank and file. They are not classy enough for some of the other people, and are continually kept in their subordinate position. They are told to-day that they are invaluable, that we cannot allow them to go to the front because they are wanted here as instructors. If that be so, surely we ought to give them a decent rate of pay. Again and again they have been promised increased pay, and I ask the Assistant Minister of Defence now to point to any item ou the Estimates before the Committee to provide for the increments which were due to the sergeants-major and warrant officers in July last. I hope that the honorable gentleman will take a note of my statement, and in his reply will tell us where those increments are provided for. These non-commissioned officers are the very foundation of our military system. The honorable member for Fremantle referred to the Area Officers, but many of them put in only a minute for a day’s work. I am not’ troubling about increases in salaries for such men.
– Are there many of whom that can bo said?
– I know of men occupying well-paid positions outside the Defence Force who have been appointed Area Officers at £160 a year, and they put in little or no time at work for the Defence Department. I am aware that a number appointed recently as Area Officers have their time fully occupied, and I sympathize with the remarks of the honorable member for Fremantle as applied to them. I have quoted before the case of an Area Officer who acted as secretary to my opponent at the Ballarat election, and he never went near his office for two or three months, except to draw his salary. Fortunately, he has since res signed. I believe he has finished with the
Defence Department, or they have finished “with him. The sergeants-major are the men who do the drilling and the real work, and all the Area Officers do is to sign the hook and take the responsibility. At the close of last session I brought up the case of the sergeantsmajor and non-commissioned officers generally, and I was promised that a number of senior warrant officers would receive temporary commissions as lieutenants. Sixteen of them have received temporary commissions as lieutenants in the Administrative Department, and in the ordinary course one would expect that the next sixteen sergeants-major would receive promotion to warrant rank. That has not been done. The positions vacated by the men who have been given temporary commissions as lieutenants have not been filled, and sixteen men subordinate to those who should have been appointed to fill those positions have also been denied promotion. We are very proud to-day of the fight which our Australian soldiers are putting up at the Dardanelles; but the fact that they have done such good work is largely due to the instruction they received from the noncommissioned officers. We show our appreciation of the splendid work which our non-commissioned officers have done by refusing to give them any promotion. Senator Pearce, Minister of Defence, was present a little while ago, and I am sorry that he did not remain, because I feel very strongly on .this matter of the unfair treatment which our non-commissioned officers have received at the hands of the military authorities. Later on, in dealing with the Estimates, I shall have a budget of notes to bring forward, to show the unfairness which has taken place in the matter of promotions. The honorable members for Newcastle and Fremantle referred to the matter of inventions. We have a young inventor in Ballarat who invented a cooker. While the Cook Government were in power, the military authorities refused to give it a trial. With the advent of the Labour party to power, we managed to induce the authorities to give this man’s invention a trial. I have received a report from the military authorities about the trial, in which they speak of this cooker in a highly satisfactory way. They practically certify that it is the best cooker they have ever seen. After two years this young man has been given some satisfaction in the report to which I. have referred, and a number of the cookers have been purchased by the Department. He informs me - and this is a matter which is of importance at the present time - that if he is given a trial at Broadmeadows, he can save £55 a week in the cooking arrangements there alone by a saving, in fuel, bread, and meat. He has brought this offer under the notice of the authorities, so far without avail. He guarantees to forfeit £100 if he cannot make good the statement he makes. I ask the Assistant Minister of Defence to have some inquiry made into this matter. I can supply him with the figures which show how the saving can be effected, and the authorities can see whether this man is telling the truth or not. I trust that the Assistant Minister will especially make full inquiry into the statement I have made regarding the appointment of Lieutenant Pearce.
.- I do not offer any apology for taking up the time of the Committee on the Estimates. Their consideration provides honorable members with practically their only opportunity to discuss grievances. I wish, first of all, to refer to the appointment of subordinate officers to senior positions at the pay of subordinate officers. That practice is rampant in the service. I can mention specific cases, and I can assure honorable members that great discontent exists amongst those concerned, who naturally want to know what we mean by supporting a Government that imposes upon them in this way, and that have no better sense of the fitness of things than to make fictitious promotions by which they secure services which only senior officers are supposed to be able to perform, for very much less than those services are worth. The men thus promoted would not receive promotion were they, not able to perform the duties of the higher rank. My experience justifies the statement that in numerous cases subordinate officers are better informed regarding the general work of the Department and the special duties of their positions than are their superiors. In many instances superior officers rely entirely on the sheer ability of junior offi- cers to see them, through. To my mind the action of the Defence Department is as incongruous as would be that of the Railway Department were it to appoint porters to act as stationmasters, and continue to give them only the pay of porters. This is the more remarkable when one considers the answers given from time to time by the Minister of Defence to those who have questioned him on the subject. Last December, in another place, he was asked -
Has a number of militia officers recently been appointed temporarily to the instructional staff for duty as brigade majors at a salary of £375 per annum, with temporary rank of captain ?
Is there a number of permanent officers of the instructional staff who have been and are still performing precisely similar duties with temporary rank of captain, and in some cases rank of lieutenant, at a salary of £275 per annum ?
The Minister’s reply to those questions was -
That is, a number of permanent men who have given their lives to the military service of the country, and are duly qualified, have been temporarily promoted to do the work of a higher rank, but continue to draw the pay of the rank from which they have been promoted, while Militia officers, who have not given their time exclusively to military duties, and therefore cannot be expected to be as efficient as those who have done so, are paid £100 a year more cm being given similar promotion. The Minister was asked, “ Why this discrepancy?” His explanation was -
Officers of the Permanent Forces occupy permanent appointments, from which they are not liable to be removed unless their services are unsatisfactory, with pay according to their rank and length of service as prescribed in the financial regulations, under which conditions they accepted their permanent appointments. Officers of the Citizen Forces, when called up for military duty, are entitled to the pay of their rank under the regulations as follows : - Colonels, £S2l per annum; lieut, colonels, £684 per annum; majors, £547 per annum; captains, £410 per annum; lieutenants, £273 per annum. With a view to economy, a number required to replace permanent officers have been temporarily employed at the pay of Instructional Staff rates as follows : - Colonel employed as major, £500 per annum; majors, £475 per annum ; captains, £375 per annum ; lieutenants, £250 per annum; 2nd lieutenants, £200 per annum. The services of officers of the Citizen Forces so employed are liable to termination at any time.
Other questions of the same nature were asked and answered by the Minister, all stressing the point, and making plain the fact that inferior officers are doing the work of superior officers and receiving the pay of a lower rank. This is against the principles of the Labour Government, and should not be tolerated. In the British Army, brigade majors never hold commissions under the rank of captain, either in peace or war, but here lieutenants of the Permanent Forces are called on to act as brigade majors, the emoluments of which rank run up to £547 per annum, and are paid only £250 per annum. This treatment is not calculated to develop the esprit de corps which we desire in our Military Forces; it is, on the contrary, likely to cause dissension, dissatisfaction, and unrest. I assure the Assistant Minister of Defence that there is distinct unrest among many of our officers because of this action on the part of the Department. A number of citizen officers have recently been appointed to act as brigade majors, but none of them received less than the pay of captains. Some permanent officers are getting £375, but for the most part the permanent lieutenants who have been temporarily promoted receive only £250. I can give specific cases. There is a lieutenant at Newcastle who is acting as brigade major, and drawing only £250, when he should get a salary of over £500. Another lieutenant has been temporarily promoted to the rank of captain, and is acting as brigade major, but is receiving only £275. I appeal to the Minister, whether this is fair, or calculated to keep our officers in good spirits. Another temporary captain at Sydney, acting as brigade major, receives only £250. Of course it would not be fair to mention names. Apart from the remedying of injustice to individuals, these anomalies should be rectified in the interests of Australia. Another matter of vital concern to me, since I represent the electorate in which the Small Arms Factory is situated, is the feeling that things there are not what they should be. I have been told time and again that this is a delicate matter, which it would be wise to leave alone, and, in my judgment, I have left it alone too long. I wish that I had taken an opportunity to make a charge against the administration of the Department, and had had the matter threshed out before the war cloud burst. At the present time one feels some diffi..1 about dealing with matters of vital importance when information may be used to the disadvantage of Australia. However, a crisis has now arisen which demands attention, and silence on the matter can no longer be considered golden. The manager of the factory is contemplating a change; his services are now required elsewhere. Quite recently we were told that he could not be spared from Lithgow for even a day .to attend to certain important matters regarding an inquiry, but now we find that he can be spared altogether. What is going to happen I do not know, but in view of the scarcity of ammunition and arms - a fatal flaw in the Empire’s defence - our factory should be working day and night. It should never be idle. The sooner the Administration is indicted for neglect in connexion with this matter the better. Hitherto I have remained silent, out of deference to what appeared to be strong arguments in justification of the existing conditions, but those arguments have one by one been exploded. For instance, we have been told that we could not secure the services of the men who are necessary to work the additional shifts. Yet the manager has affirmed that the process of manufacturing rifles is so simple that the men in attendance upon the machines arc mere automata - that the machines arc much more intricate automatic devices than are the men. But, assuming that skilled men are required for the work, I am informed that there are quite sufficient members of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers in Australia to efficiently equip this factory. If ordinary intelligence is not sufficient to master the machines quickly, trained intelligence surely would be. A member of that society, who has served his time in a workshop, is supposed to be able to work a lathe to any design submitted to him. In other words, if ho is put in charge of a lathe, he will turn out whatever is depicted in the sketch to which he works. He can work to a thousandth part of an inch, and it is immaterial to him whether he is making part of a sewing machine or part of a rifle.
– In England very great difficulty has been experienced in working the small arms factories two or threeshifts.
– It is being done now, I understand.
– Yes, but only recently..
– It has been done at two places all along. The difficulty has been experienced at only one place-
– We have recently been able to offer to the Old Country the services of trained men who are qualified to take their places in the ammunition and small arms factories there. As a result of a hint from the Imperial authorities, we have intimated that we can supply them with quite a number of trained mechanics. This circumstance further dissipates the reason which has been urged as to why our own’ Small Anns Factory has not been working an increased number of hours. Two years ago it was supposed to be able to turn out 300 rifles per month. But it has never reached that output as a regular thing. It has done so only upon one or two occasions. This fact - in view of the wonderful machinery with which it is equipped^ and of the management, of which wc have heard so much - suggests that there is a screw loose somewhere, and I do not think that a change is coming any too soon.
– The honorable member might say something of the men, so far as the output is concerned.
– So far as my knowledge of the men is concerned, they are anxious to see the output increased. There are employes in that factory who know more about it than do those who are supposed to direct its operations - men who have had twenty years’ experience in some of the large arms factories of the world, such as those of Vickers Son and Maxim. They know their business. Of course there may be a few laggards. I cannot say that all the men are working up to concert pitch, but they certainly ought to be.
– They are not doing so.
– With proper handling, sufficient enthusiasm could be infused into them to induce them to do so. If they are not working up to concert pitch, strong measures should be taken to compel them to do so. The skilled men in this establishment who are available should be possessed of sufficient intelligence to appreciate the seriousness of the present situation. If the only trouble is in the matter of men, I will undertake to see that they do the right thing, so long as we are assured of proper management.
– If the bonus system wore in operation there, I venture to say wc should get double the present output of work.
– That is beside the question. I would welcome any change which would result in an increased OUtPUt, and bring the factory up to the mark of efficiency. Not long ago I found that the wages cost alone of production amounted to £6 per rifle, whereas the British Government were supplying us with similar weapons for £A 10s.
– The position is better now.
– I hope that it is. Of course we cannot get rifles from oversea at the present time. AVe wore led to believe that we had anticipated the existing position, but experience has shown that we have fallen far short of it, with the result that to-day we are faced with a critical situation, so far as the’ output of the factory is concerned. I do not know if all the men who could be accommodated there, with a view to working the machinery night and day, could be kept continuously employed because of past shortcomings. We have a right to know what is the existing position, and to demand the maximum output from this factory. That is the smallest contribution that we ought to make towards the defence of the Empire. I deprecate a policy of enforced silence when things which should have been put right long since, are going wrong. I do not know what is going to happen at this particular factory, but I want to know. Honorable members have a right to know. It has not come up to our expectations, and now, at a supremely critical moment, .1 am advised that the manager is relinquishing control, and that important changes are about to be made. I think that the Committee will agree with me that every measure possible should be taken to insure the factory being worked both night and day.
– I ask the leave of the House to submit a motion.
– It is with great regret that I have to announce the death of Major-General Bridges, and to submit to the House a motion expressing condolence with his family, and our deep sense of the loss sustained by the Commonwealth. We have just received word that MajorGeneral Bridges has passed away as the result of injuries received by him while on active service in the Dardanelles. Few words of mine are necessary in submitting to the House this motion, which will be seconded by my right honorable friend the Leader of the Opposition. I speak, I think, on behalf of nob only this House, but of the whole Parliament and the people of Australia, when I say that we deeply regret the loss of this distinguished soldier. Since all men must die, no greater honour can fall to the lot of any of us than to die fighting for King and country. Major-General Bridges has left a record as a man that will serve as an example to all, and which every one would wish his own son to emulate. It is one that his family will prize, and in which we all hope they will find some consolation .
This is no time to attempt to eulogize those whose accomplishments and abilities, as displayed both on the field of service in the Commonwealth and on the battlefields of the Empire, will be imperishably recorded in the history of our country. I can only say that I deeply deplore the occasion which renders it necessary for me to move the following motion -
That this House expresses its deep sense of the loss sustained by the Commonwealth in the death on the battlefield of Major-General Bridges, C.M.G., Officer Commanding the First Division of the Australian Imperial Force, and places on record its deep appreciation of his great services in the development of our Defence system, and its admiration of his organization and leadership of the Australian Forces now in action in the Dardanelles. It also tenders its respectful sympathy to the family of this distinguished soldier.
– It is with melancholy feelings that I rise to second this motion. I regard it as a calamity that Australia should have lost its acknowledged military leader so soon in this campaign. Major-General Bridges was a man whom it will be very difficult to replace for many years to come in the Defence Forces of Australia. His watchword was “Duty.” He did that duty without fear or favour, and with a perseverance and ability that has placed him high in the ranks of military authorities, whether his record be measured by our own Australian experience or by the experience of military nations oversea. Any nation might have been proud, no matter what its military development, to possess a leader of Major-General Bridges’ calibre. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to him for the determination and ability with which he devoted himself > to the development of our new Defence Forces. The beginnings of all sciences are extremely difficult, and those who were closely associated with him alone know how self-sacrificingly he devoted himself to the single object of making our Defence Forces the equal of those of any country in the world. It is only truth to say that he was a master of the science and practice of warfare as carried on in these modern days. He left these shores as the leader of the first Australian Division to take part in this world war, carrying with, him, I believe, the confidence of the entire nation. And, although his opportunities for service on the battlefield have been few, he, like so many of his brave followers, has fallen gloriously. One cannot but feel that the sacrifice of a life like his, at this early stage, or, indeed, at any stage of the war, is a great loss to the nation as a whole. We have, however, to face this melancholy loss - this great bereavement - which the nation suffers in the death of this distinguished man. One reflects that, although Major-General Bridges’ life has thus been cut short, he has left us a brilliant example to follow - an example of high integrity, of high ability, of high purpose, and of real devotion to duty and to his country, which it was his pride to serve. One reflects also with satisfaction upon the fact that he fell as a soldier would like to fall, in sight, of his own brave men, who are struggling with a tremendous task such as few troops, I fancy, have ever faced before. With the roll of the musketry around him, and with the boom of the guns in his ears, he died, as a soldier and as a man, in the defence of his King and his country.
.- As one who was closely associated personally with the departed General, I should like, without intruding upon the patience of honorable members, to express my sense of the loss that his friends as well as the country to which he belonged have suffered. I think that Major-General Bridges was the first example of the scientific soldier among our senior officers. He was even more than that; he was a man who had but one end in life, and that was to do his duty, and to do it to the best of his ability. If at any time he has had friction with others with whom he has been associated - as a man with force of character must necessarily have - it has always been because he has endeavoured to get the best work, the most loyal service out of those under him - to get from them as loyal service and as good work as he was freely prepared to give himself. During his three years’ control of the Military College he made it one of which any country might well be proud. He organized, and left our shores in charge of, our First Division, which will live for all time in the history of Australia. He has left a widow and a family, and I think at this time our feelings must go out, not only to the country which has lost this brave man, but to the widow and family who have so personal a sense of bereavement.
– I think that I ought to inform the House that our information is that Major-General Bridges died at sea on the 18th instant, and that the news of his death was broken to his widow by Her Excellency, Lady Helen Ferguson, and his nearest friends.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
House adjourned at 10 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 20 May 1915, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1915/19150520_reps_6_76/>.